If you’ve been following along thus far, you know we had a great time exploring the Yucatan Peninsula a few weeks ago. True to form, I couldn’t just have fun…I had to get home and analyze the entire trip. But let’s be honest, this is part of the fun for me anyway. (more…)
Our last real stop in Mexico was the lovely island of women, Isla Mujeres. There’s a few theories on the name, but I’ll leave that to your research.
Isla Mujeres is a 4 mile stretch of land just a few miles off the coast of the Yucatan.
The island is much more laid-back than Cancun, and it’s a common day trip for folks staying in the hotel zone.
The day before we planned to go, I asked the concierge at the Westin for some information on getting to the island. She kindly handed me the UltraMar flyer, and pointed out all the stops throughout the hotel zone. $19 US round trip.
It was time to move onto the next phase of our trip: from hiking through ruins and swimming in ancient cenotes, to relaxing on the beaches of Cancun. Normally, I’m a very busy traveler.
Can’t stop, won’t stop, right?
However, we planned the last few nights at the Westin in Cancun’s hotel zone to take advantage of the resort scene, even if it’s not my usual cup of tea. Plus, I had all those SPG points to burn anyway. I have to say, my son and girlfriend liked being pampered for a bit, even though I was completely out of my league. And the Westin isn’t even top-notch, compared to some of the spots around here…
You know, I think we did a pretty good job with Mexico. We got to see a lot, and had a decent amount of time exploring. If there was one thing I’d change though, I would have made room for an extra day in Valladolid. It’s a great little city, and the colonial architecture reminded us so much of Arequipa. All those good memories of our Peru trip came flooding back, and even though we only had a little time there, we had a lot of fun.
We managed two nights in Valladolid. With the short stay, it really became simply a launch pad for Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. An evening walk down Calzada de los Frailes was a highlight of the trip, complete with sampling some traditional Mayan chocolate and dinner in an old Spanish hacienda.
Here’s the one you guys were waiting for: Chichen Itza.
As soon as we told folks we were going to the Yucatan, people wanted to know two things:
“Are you going to stay on the Riviera Maya?”
“Are you going to see Chichen Itza?”
I can happily say that the answers to both of those questions were yes.
I can’t lie, the site is impressive in person.
Surrounded by level grass on all sides, El Castillo towers over the rest of the archaeological zone. You immediately feel the awe of the site when you step beneath its shadow.
After Tulum, we travelled northwest and inland on highway 109. Destination Valladolid, to see some of the ruins and colonial architecture . A little before the halfway mark from the coast to Valladolid, you’ll hit a rotary on 109. Take the rotary around to the third exit (essentially turning left, or southwest) to get to Coba.
A trip to the Riviera Maya wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the little beachside town of Akumal. Travelers make their way to Akumal for those very same beaches, not to mention the turtles. I’m happy to report that we weren’t disappointed with either.
Akumal is about a 30 minute ride north of Tulum on highway 307. The entrance on the south side of 307 leads you straight down to Akumal Bay. Akumal is really made up of three parts: Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay, and the Akumal Pueblo.
Between tacos in Tulum, we had our first opportunity to really explore the beautiful Yucatan peninsula. Just a few miles south of the beachside town lies the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve.
Designated a world heritage site in 1987, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve hugs the gorgeous Caribbean coastline on the Yucatan’s east coast. We didn’t have time to fully explore the Reserve, but we were able to do small trip into some of the lagoons and float through a canal carved by the Mayans. I’ll explain below..
But before we got to the Sian Ka’an, we had the opportunity to explore the Muyil archaeological zone, just off highway 307, south of Tulum.
Total trip, we were in the Yucatan for 8 nights, and the first 3 of those we spent in a great AirBnB in the town of Tulum. On a tiny side street, it was quiet enough to get some sleep or plan out our next day, but still close enough to walk into town and sniff out whatever smelled best for dinner.
Although the beachfront is dominated by hotels, similar to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, the town is pretty slow-paced. Staying in town allowed us to feel at least a bit more local, which I love. If you want a spot to take it slow for a bit while traveling the Riviera Maya, Tulum is a great option.
If going slow isn’t your thing, still stop by Tulum. It has some great ruins, beaches, and is in the perfect spot to explore other nearby sites.
Three words sum up my trip to Mexico:
If you didn’t guess from those three words, it was a fantastic trip! My son’s first international trip was a huge success, and we all had a great time exploring. I couldn’t have asked for a better weather, which made the trip even better. Before we went, forecasts were reading hot, with thunderstorms every afternoon. Luckily, we only got one torrential downpour, and only one day in Valladolid was it uncomfortable hot.