Michelle and I are spending seven nights driving around the Yucatan. Here’s what we did!
Day 1: We landed in Cancun at 1:00 pm, 15 minutes early. We took the Hertz shuttle to their counter and picked up our car for the week, a Nissan March. It was advertised as a compact but it is definitely considered a subcompact in the US. Anyways, we managed to fit all our luggage into the small trunk, which is necessary since we plan on leaving our bags in the car during some stops on the road.
We took the toll road to Merida. We stopped once, at Dona Teres at the rest stop for a quick snack. I have been on many long and boring drives in my life, but this drive takes the cake. It makes the 401 between Montreal and Toronto seem like a scenic drive through the alps. There is absolutely nothing but trees on the side of the road, and there are only about four exits on the entire 300 km drive to Merida! It’s also very expensive, a little over 400 pesos ($32 CAD) each way. Fortunately it is very fast and we wanted to get to Merida somewhat early, so it was the best option. If you’re in no rush, consider taking the “libre” highway, where you’ll pass through many interesting small towns along the way.
I should mention that this is a Saturday, so we have Saturday night and Sunday morning in Merida. Merida is amazing, one of my favourite cities that I’ve visited. The “centro” is very compact (pretty much everything is on a ~5 block portion of Calle 60 – the outskirts are a little ugly). I don’t thing I’ve ever seen a more lively city in my life, including New York. Every Saturday night they close off Calle 60 to cars, all the restaurants set up tables outside, and there is live music and dancing everywhere. There are vendors selling Mayan crafts, lots of street food, and performances in the park. They also projected a colourful film on the big cathedral next to the Plaza Grande, which was interesting to watch even though we couldn’t understand the narration.
Speaking of which, neither of us speak any Spanish. If we need to say something, our strategy is to say the key words in French and hope it is understood (it hasn’t been a very successful strategy). Nevertheless, we haven’t had any major problems so far. I’m actually very surprised by how many Mexicans working in touristy places, hotels, and restaurants are able to speak at least elementary English. I was sort of expecting it to be more like Costa Rica, where virtually nobody outside our hotels (an even then it was iffy) spoke English.
For dinner we ate at Amaro’s, which was expensive (by Mexican standards) but very good. My fiancee is vegetarian, so we found this place (and most of our meals in Mexico) by searching TA for vegetarian-friendly restaurants. After dinner we walked up and down Calle 60 and around all the adjacent parks. At 9:00 we walked to the beginning of Paseo Montejo, where we read that there would be some sort of concert going on, but there was nothing happening there.
Day 2: We had breakfast at our hotel (Casa Lucia on Calle 60) and spent the rest of the morning exploring the city. On Sunday they also close the main streets to cars, and tons of vendors set up booths in all the parks. There is also lots of live music. We spent most of our time in Plaza Grande. We walked around the park a few times to look at what the vendors were offering, and my fiancee bought two shirts. There is also tons of street food in the park. We shared a very large bag of churros, which were the best (and the cheapest) I’ve ever had. We had lunch on the street at “El As de Tacos.” The food was great, and lunch for two (a big tostada, two tacos, and a litre of bottled water) was only 46 pesos ($3.68 CAD/ $2.50 USD).
After lunch we went back to our hotel, loaded up the car and drove to Izamal on small roads, via Tixkobob. It was an interesting drive through many Mayan towns.
Izamal was beautiful, even better than I expected. After driving along the yellow streets we parked near the convent and walked all around it. It’s pretty amazing to see such a grand structure, surrounded by countless other buildings of the same shade of yellow.
From the convent we walked to Kinich Restaurant, where we had an amazing (and inexpensive) early dinner in a nice setting. We finished eating before five so we walked to the Kinich pyramid. Along the way we befriended a friendly stray dog who followed us around for the next hour. The pyramid was fun to walk up and gave us nice views of the city.
After the pyramid we walked back to our car and drove to our next hotel in Ek Balam. We took small roads to the toll road, and then took the toll road for about 100 km to Valladolid, and then the 295 up to Ek Balam, where we will base ourselves for three days to explore ruins and cenotes!