I have been enchanted by her, Mexico. She holds many secrets. During the deepest days of winter, my husband and I travel to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to pry some of these prettiest secrets from her.
We fly in to Mexico’s Cancun International Airport. Its mayhem this airport, on your way out, don’t ever trust the gate information will stay consistent, double-triple check that information. Like everybody here, we want to flee this airport as quickly as possible. We rent our car and start heading west. Downloading the directions to Google Maps prior to my phone was a huge advantage in this long venture away from civilization. We were able to keep phone signal mostly but with roaming charges; however better safe than sorry – download and print those directions. Within minutes you are on a toll road through dense mexican jungle. My eyes kept scanning the jungle the entire time, hardly signs of life to be found, some fields cleared, some dirt roads going off into nowhere, a shack here and there. Your mind wanders to the secrets being kept by the big green walls lining the toll road to Merida.
During the 3ish hour drive to Merida, you will encounter toll roads, still a bit of a mystery to me… please note I speak the littlest of spanish (and this situation must be rectified), it would have helped as we navigated the toll booths. It is pretty straight forward the pesos are displayed in electronic signs. You do need to provide information on where you are travelling to the booth attendees so they can calculate the fees. The attendee, a bit frustrated, but helpful, did turn us around so we could take the correct road instead of sending us off into the wrong direction…Lo Siento me amigo. The tolls were a bit more than we anticipated, our charges were 501 pesos and 187 pesos (about $35 one way) with two toll stops on our way to Merida. This is still very reasonable as the roads were direct and well-kept with clean and safe rest areas along the way. Don’t run low on the fuel as the gas stations are very few.
Boutique by the Museo: Let me share a secret with you regarding the most fabulous accommodations we had in Merida. You feel you are staying an exquisite Mexican Mansion, much like those that line the main streets of Merida. The owners are a family that split their time between California, Merida, and other reaches of the world. The extremely helpful family and staff will provide true concierge services, arranging and executing your wants for appropriate to you excursions. Cooking classes and massages are big on their deliverables. You are served breakfast in the courtyard. The courtyard is a hub and life of the mexican home, and here it is no different. If you lurk for a bit, you will encounter interesting world travellers willing to swap tales and Merida advice with. In the evening, we were surprised with live music entertainment, appetizers, and drinks. The wine, be sure to have a glass as the owners are obvious connoisseurs; I had some varietal from France and it was one of the most wonderful wines I have ever had. As far as location, prime. You are one block off of the main downtown road/Paseo De Montejo with the big well-known hotels and modern shopping to your north and the ancient beautiful downtown to the south, all walking distance. This is how we chose to spend our time. You will also be able to use Merida as a home base to explore some of the pyramid ruins and ancient cenotes nearby (next visit for us).
To explore Merida, we spent much of our time walking the streets to explore. A popular way to get around is Uber so now you know. There are also double-decker city bus tours I will want to participate in next time we visit. We did have our car but the driving is a bit chaotic, the parking provided by the hotel was secure, and walking was the speed we felt was perfect for taking in all the cities secrets. With our little spanish, we communicated, and even joked with eager locals wanting to make a connection with us. Our visit was during the Christmas season. These hard-working people shift in to a low gear and walk the streets in their large family groups, with smiles and happy in their heart as they enjoy precious downtime from responsibilities with their loved ones.
The main street is lined with behemoth, ornate mansions with a smattering of homes in disrepair among these antique giants. Very unlike the states in this way. We learned it’s a bit of a preservation nightmare for some of the owners as they have to stick to strict guidelines for presentation of these historic monuments. The buildings are so striking and with so much Spanish Renaissance influence woven in to the architecture. Merida took the best of what it was given and evolved from many influences to become one of the most prettiest cities I have visited.
My husband is passionate about skateboarding and will skate every location we visit, if possible. One evening, he took off on his own adventure and found a busy plaza that was perfect. He skated for 2 hours drawing attention and intrigue but no problems from locals or police. This is a well-moneyed, progressive/artistic, self-sustaining, safe city with so much to offer in exploration. I have no doubts we will be returning to Merida to dance with her again and see what secrets we can coax out of her.
After just 3 nights in Merida, we are set for another Caribbean beach adventure. We will spend 4 nights on Isla Holbox (pronounced like Holbosh). It’s about 4 hours, back on the toll roads and then North before you arrive back to Cancun; and the return trip to Cancun is just under 2 hours. There are no cars allowed on Holbox; you will see a few but they are police and municipal trucks for the most part. Your rental vehicle can be parked safely in local’s makeshift covered parking lots in the port town of Chiquila. Plan on spending about 50-100 pesos/$2.5-5 a day for parking. No don’t bother trying to book parking in advance, just show up. Your ferry ride to the island is 150 pesos/$7.50. The exchange rate is not in your favor on the island so if you exchange before hand your pesos will go further. Don’t count on using your credit cards on the island, the peso is king here.
I have a hard time sharing this secret because Holbox is special, its unmolested, it’s still Mexico. I can’t imagine it will stay this way when the secret is out. There are no chain hotels or Starbucks. Twenty-six square miles of paradise, (1×26 square milesish banana shaped sandbar), and only a couple miles truly inhabited as much of the land is under environmental protection/preserve status.
The “roads” are sand and rutted with sometimes street-spanning puddles. You travel by golf carts or the more coveted side-by-sides, quite fun; you can rent your own but most opt for the taxi service, about 50-70 pesos. Taxis are abound at the dock, no problems with island transportation. It’s possible to navigate the whole town by foot, no problem. There are also spectacularly rusted bike cruisers everywhere to rent. Locals have their own mopeds, so you know who the cool kids are.
The island adventures are as unique as the island. They are known for their fishing excursions, swimming with whale sharks (May-Sept), and part of flamingos migratory route. If you are hoping to see unique wildlife, you’re in luck. Birds, so many different exotic sea birds. There are island raccoons, they look just like the ones who get into my trash, who knew? Wandering dogs with collars but not really seeming to belong to anyone, its a thing. Iguanas and geckos once your eyes adjust for their shapes, you will start to see them everywhere.
Our accommodations, Las Nubes, where the land ends. It’s the last in the long string of ocean-facing hotels offering the best of exotic and high-end island experiences. A beautiful sandbar appears in front of the hotel and the most unique experience of pedaling a cruiser in the 6 inches-2 feet of water on your way to the sandbar. Splashing about and scattering fish on the back of a bike is for the playful. I don’t claim to discover this sport, merely observed and mimicked other brave adventures. Las Nubes includes a continental breakfast, use of bikes, and kayaks. We also spent a day paddling around our sandbar on the kayaks, a wonderful way to explore the beachfront.
Clip of Biking the Carribean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw5i5yTDGGM
The central town square must be taken in. Eat off the plaza and be an observer of humanity in this no-rushing-allowed island life zone. A noteworthy meal was had at NAAY, a beautiful woman/business owner serves the highest quality, whole foods which reminded me of our finest hippie eateries at home in Boulder, Colorado. Sit on the bleachers that overlook the soccer/basketball/whatever you want it to be court for a serving of culture and activity. Jason skated the plaza. Bright murals, mopeds zipping about, the night lit up with all sort of festivity. An old man reading a newspaper took the greatest of interest in Jason landing his tricks. He informed anyone setting on the ledge Jas was skating that they needed to relocate. Children wanted to talk to him about his skateboard, he formed quite the cheering committee. My favorite was of 3 young boys, one with a skateboard shirt who all stuck around and gave him a 10/10 for landing his trick. In fact our first interaction with a local was an offer to buy his board. A hungarian man taped him landing his best trick and has emailed me the clip. It’s apparent that self-expression, art, talent is much celebrated on this plaza and I extend that spirit to all of Mexico.
Picture by Tamás Polgár
Clip of Jas landing his trick can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaPAangK15o
Vulnerability, willingness to communicate, being inquisitive, apologies, playfulness, sharing yourself… this is how you experience Mexico. Travels fills your mind and body with so much more than can be expressed. Bring your openness to receive, and you will. You will find yourself diving deep into the most prettiest secrets, taking in these whispers and feeling so very lucky to be entrusted with these truths. The rewards are great for those who intentionally seek new experiences and wisdoms to cherish for a lifetime. Vivo, Todos Los Dias.