Tag Archives: Mexico

Yucatan Adventures – Tulum and Bacalar

A mid-December holiday beckoned us to sun and fun.  Wanting to explore the Yucatan Peninsula, a friend from Mexico said, “Let’s go to Bacalar!” 

Relatively quick and cheap flights from the southern U.S. to Cancun make travel easy.  Leaving the Cancun International Airport, it’s about an hour and a half drive to Tulum barring delays due to construction or accidents.  New to us were roads having a lane and a half going each way.  Luckily, our friend was driving, but you quickly learn how to drive and pass by watching the other cars navigate. 

Larger and busier than expected, Tulum still offers pleasurable walking.  Bicycle paths through much of the city provide a great way to avoid the traffic and to see life passing by at a slower pace. 

An early morning start to see the Tulum Ruins pays off in avoiding the crowds that arrive by mid-morning.  Spectacularly located overlooking the rolling, blue ocean, paths lead you around different ruins that you view from a distance. We stumbled (almost literally) over several iguanas here.  They are masters of camouflage!  

As part of the fee to the ruins, you can also buy entrances to the cave tour and cenote at Aktun Chen.  To find this nature park, you drive a dirt road through a jungle for about 20 minutes.The guided cave tour is an easy, dry walk with an underground lake as its grand finale.  

Another short drive leads to the cenote.  Upon arrival, locker rooms, showers and life jackets await.  Step down a few stairs and, voila, you enter a pristine lake nestled within a cave.  For some, it takes a bit to get used to the cool water, but once you do, exploring the two large caverns is exhilarating!  Visits are not time limited.  We spent over an hour with just our group and one other couple.  Another small group joined us just before we left.  (TRAVEL TIP:  Bring a small dry bag for your camera.  It will make taking pictures more enjoyable.)

Nearby, Los Primos in Chemuyil delivers a welcoming atmosphere and excellent ceviche and tacos for a late lunch. 

A recommendation by our waiter, the tranquility of Akumal beach creates a perfect setting for a memorable sunset walk.

Vibrant nighttime streets in Tulum buzz with street food vendors, fruit stands, restaurants and shops.  We bought glazed clay bowls for guacamole and small musical instruments for patio fiestas at home.  The Argentinian restaurant, El Sudaca, charms with a breezy vibe to go along with its tasty chimichurri! 

On the drive south, the Muyil Mayan Ruins let you feel like Indiana Jones discovering lost civilizations.

Also at Muyil, book a boat to take you into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This saves time for those who don’t want to drive to the bioreserve’s main location in Punta Allen. A twenty minute jungle walk on a boardwalk takes you to the embarkation point on Laguna Chunyaxché.  Once on the boat, the captain smoothly navigates across the lagoon and into the mangrove canals.  Ultimately, you can jump into the canal and let a slow current take you and your life jacket for a 30 minute ride through the mangroves where the Captain meets you at the end.  (Although a small crocodile was spotted along the way, the Captain gave assurances that “most” don’t come out until nighttime!) 

Driving another couple of hours south takes you to the town of Bacalar, about 50 kilometers north of the Belize border.  For our stay with a group of six, our rented house also included a guest house and a private dock with kayaks.  Only a ten minute drive to the plaza made for a convenient location. 

The town of Bacalar welcomes with a large central plaza for strolling and admiring the blue-green lagoon.  Busy restaurants and cafes line the streets.  We didn’t venture  far while taking nighttime strolls but were able to find everything in close vicinity to the plaza.

In the mornings, stop at Mercado Municipal de Bacalar to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade tortillas and fresh fish from Pescaderia del Guero.  (They also have a second larger store that is not in the center of town.)  What a treat to cook and eat fresh fish!

We packed ceviche, guacamole and maduros from El Taco Loco for our boat outing on Laguna Bacalar, known as the Lagoon of the Seven Colors,  The boat picked us up at our dock for two and a half hours that included swimming at three locations and visiting three cenotes.   Unlike the boat trip at the protected biosphere reserve, this lagoon had several boats and jet skis although not overwhelmingly so.  If you visit Bacalar, you’ll definitely want to reserve a boat excursion!

Walking through the forests at the Mayan Ruins of Kohunlich rewards the visitor with canopies of large, vibrant tropical foliage.  Amazingly, we experienced these ruins practically by ourselves with only a handful of other guests in the whole area.  Walking through these timeworn structures inspires awe.  We almost missed the Temple of the Masks when we were trying to outrun the mosquitos  Glad we didn’t!

To access the ruins at Dzibanche, it’s necessary to pay locals for use of the road.  The government still maintains the ruins and its nearby roads, but the outer road between the main highway and the park road is not maintained and makes for slow driving.  But, it is more than worth it!!  Again, we found ourselves as adventurers stumbling upon undiscovered treasures…crossing paths with practically no one at the whole site.

Closeby at Kinichna stands the tallest pyramid in the area, the House of the Sun.  It’s built in four levels which means you climb for a while then have a grassy terrace then more steps to climb up to the next level.  Standing on top of this towering, hallowed pyramid, with the vista of the jungle encircling you, is one of those moments you breathe slowly and try to capture the image to last a lifetime.

Stops Along the Way:

Yes to Puerto Moreles!  A 30 minute drive from the airport, this cute and lively town invites you to spend more time.  We stopped by both times that we passed by it.  Check out the restaurant El Merkadito Seafood and Beach Club.  Hope to return to Puerto Moreles on future trips!

No to Mahahual!  What probably used to be a quaint seaport now welcomes cruise ships and its throngs.  While we were there, four ships were docked.  The walkway with a beach view is comfortable, but the constant contact with vendors selling souvenirs, massages or places to sit is not relaxing.  From here, our friends hired a boat for an incredible snorkeling trip to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world. Find a less touristy location to depart for snorkeling and avoid this stop if you can. 

Serendipity Notes:

Unplanned, joyous moments always pop up during travels.  To wait out a downpour before visiting the Mayan Ruins Kohunlich, we backtracked to the only sign of civilization we had passed.  Luckily, The Explorean Kohunlich welcomed us to watch the FIFA WorldCup finals with guests, coffee and croissants.

Feeling Alive While Celebrating the Dead in Mexico City

We’ve celebrated El Día de los Muertos in recent years by building ofrendas (tables filled with flowers, food, and photos of loved ones who have passed on), walking in candlelit parades and eating pan de muerto (the traditional, slightly-sweet bread baked for this holiday.)  Our local celebration has grown with each passing year and is one of our favorite nights each November because it brings together individuals excited to share old traditions or learn new ones.

This year we wanted to celebrate El Día de los Muertos in Mexico.  Lucky for us, one of our best friends is from Mexico City and invited us to visit with her and her family who live there. Traveling with someone from the area is always our favorite way to travel so we were excited to plan a long weekend with her.  We were not disappointed!


Pan de muerto welcomed us upon arrival at our friends´ house.

Mexico City’s traffic and expansiveness define how you explore and experience this city. The double decker highways, rotundas with cars going in opposite directions, and lack of clearly defined lanes all call for a driver that knows the area. We traveled by car all three days of our trip without incident except an exhilarating midnight tour through Tepito, one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

We arrived in the early morning on November 1st. The warm, sunny day beckoned us to visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum with our friend and her childhood neighbor.  We quickly learned to always be prepared for sporadic rain showers and cooler temperatures as the day goes on. The exhibit, El Mundo de los Muertos, celebrated the passage from life to death in the ancient cultures of Egypt, China, Scandinavia and Mexico. Created from paper and wax, all of the scenes were colorful, detailed, and a bit amusing.  A visit to the museum allowed us to view the world’s most important collection of Diego Rivera paintings.

After a jaunt in the car, we arrived at Zócalo or the  Plaza de la Constitución to see the center of the festivities surrounded by El Palacio Nacional and La Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México (made famous in the helicopter scene from the James Bond film Spectre.) First, we stopped at La Casa de los Azulejos for a quick break to eat molletes (a traditional dish of bread, beans, cheese, and pico de gallo) and to begin absorbing the elegant atmosphere of this historic city.

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The celebrations in the city center were filled with ofrendas, street food, music and people dressed as skeletons (calaveras and Catrinas.) The theme for the city’s ofrenda paid homage to South American, Jewish, Spanish and Asian migrants by depicting their travels on the 9 Paths to Mictlán, the Aztec´s underworld.  The Megaofrenda installed by UNAM remembered those who died at the 1968 Olympics fifty years ago.

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During a short downpour we escaped inside of the majestic cathedral.

The next morning, November 2nd, we set out on another excursion to the city center where we walked through markets beside the Palacio de Bellas Artes before visiting the San Fernando Pantheon and the Church of San Hipólito. A quick taxi ride took us back to the Plaza de la Constitución which was comfortably filled with visitors being ritually cleaned with herbs while dancers from diverse regions of the country performed in their traditional dress with fantastic feather headpieces.  We witnessed and enjoyed this blending of cultures between the catholic cathedral on one side and the ruins of El Templo Mayor on the other. This ancient temple was the center of the Aztec world and only excavated in the last forty years.  While walking around the ruins we could see the individual levels built by each successive ruler. In the Museo del Templo Mayor were incredible statues and carvings from the original temple.

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We indulged in a long lunch while the rain fell outside of the balcony at La Casa de Las Sirenas.

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Our day continued at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas which houses exhibits from China, Persia, ancient Greece and, luckily, more ofrendas and an excellent exhibit of Catrinas.

We couldn’t resist revisiting the city’s ofrendas with a new friend and his incredible homemade skeleton mask. Afterwards, we shared lively conversation, pozole, traditional quesadillas and, of course, chocolate con churros in the vibrant Casa Churro Centro CD de Mexico. A stroll around the city led us to the lovely restaurant Azul Histórico, and shopping. While buying clay masks for our house, we inadvertently learned a new phrase from Patricia, who sells Mexican artwork at Talento Mexicano Bazar.  When she said, “¿Me estás dando el avión?” which means “You are not paying attention to me,” Holly heard it as “You are taking this on the plane?”  We then shared a huge laugh, the kind you can only enjoy when you let yourself step into the vulnerability of being out of your comfort zone.

We ended the evening with our friend’s extended family for their celebration at home. We loved all of the colorful decorations, their ofrenda and, most of all, their hospitality.

Our final day, November 3rd, started with brunch at Saks Restaurant in the  San Angel neighborhood. The exceptional wait staff, breeze from the balcony, stained glass, tequila bar, vertical garden,and excellent conversation made this a meal to remember. When we stepped outside, the Saturday bazaar was in full swing and we shopped in stalls, distinctive stores, and indoor markets all the while people-watching and exploring the cobblestone streets.

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A short drive and a miracle with parallel parking took us to a neighborhood closeby. Here, we made a quick visit to the San Angel Inn and then a tour of Diego Rivera’s studio and the house where he lived with Frida Kahlo. Built in the 1920s, the complex must have made an architectural impact on the city with its modern, concrete design. The story of the two artists and their lives here was fascinating. Afterwards, a few steps away at “Cafe Ó,” we couldn’t stop eating the goat cheese with black olive appetizer and sipping their refreshing cucumber limeade.

We passed the rest of the evening in the enormous Jardín Centenario in the historic Coyoacán neighborhood. The atmosphere here was incredible with performances on stage, walking serenades, children’s lighted balloons, creative ofrendas, and families enjoying it all together. Inside of the San Juan Bautista Church we watched a quinceañera celebration with the honoree in a layered toile pink dress. With sprinkles giving a hint of the rain to come, we ended our celebration and drove home.

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Traveling always makes one live in the moment more than the daily rituals allow. There are new people, new traditions, new food, new vistas…new everything!  This trip with its blend of pageantry and remembrance was one that especially made us thankful for those past and present who left their presence with us and helped to create who we are today. We await more travels that will define us with family visits and time with friends new and old as we incorporate the people we meet and their ways of living from around the world into our life. This is what makes living really living!