Tag Archives: Travel

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.

Travel Indiana – Road Trip to Columbus, Brown County and Bean Blossom

For those enchanted by modernist architecture, a pilgrimage to Columbus, Indiana rewards with multiple gems.  Add some fabulous food and a side excursion to Brown County and Bean Blossom to complete a memorable long-weekend getaway.

Thanks to the forward-thinking, industrialist couple, Joseph Irwin Miller and his wife, Selma, Columbus attracted world renowned architects such as Eero Saarinen and I. M. Pei.  Many of the structures are within a few downtown blocks while others are only a short drive away.

The Visitor’s Center offers tours of the Miller House.  When the tour van pulls into the driveway, you’re  immersed into the collaborative masterpiece of Eero Saarinen (structure), Alexander Girard (interior) and Dan Kiley (landscaping,) The furniture, rugs, decorations, books, etc. are all original thanks to the family’s donation.  From the suspended fireplace to the pillowed conversation pit, the home invites you with its playful refinement.

Sitting above the grassy “void” below, the structure sits prominently on a hill.  Various horizontal allées (walkways lined with trees) separate outside rooms although there is no real fence on the property. The nearby road is buffered only by horizontal plantings of arborvitae.  The couple desired to not separate themselves from the community and had no gates to close the driveways.  (Our tour guide laughingly recounted that children rode their bikes through the property and in the 1970s she even went so far as to drive her car up to the garage in curiosity…until she saw the owners and their driver preparing to leave the house.  They all politely waved to each other before she made a quick departure.)

Although we luckily reserved tickets for the house tour, we weren’t so lucky with the downtown walking tour (book as far in advance as possible!)  With a $3 map from the visitor’s center and the Columbus IN Tour online app, we successfully explored on our own.  Fortunately, the town seems comfortable with visitors walking into and around buildings with no purpose except to enjoy the design elements.

I. M. Pei’s Cleo Rogers Memorial Library
The First Christian Church designed by architect Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen.
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church – exterior
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church – interior
North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church – exterior
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church – interior

For Chihuly fans, the Visitor Center’s installation displays his typical forms.

A short drive takes you to another Chihuly  exhibit.  This one features a flat circular panel suspended in a silo.  Read more here about his works in Columbus.

In downtown Columbus, it’s easy to find local dining options. 

Fine dining with friends at Henry Social Club.  Roasted cod, homemade ravioli and tofu with vegetables were all winners.  (So good, in fact, that they were eaten before we thought about pictures!)

Find casual dining at Upland Columbus Pump House.  Fish-n-chips, pizza, burgers and wings… a peaceful evening on the deck overlooking the river.

Forget about the calories at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor … an authentic soda fountain from 1900.

We found our coffee winner for this trip at Lucabe Coffee

An easy 20 minute drive to the west of Columbus takes you to Brown County State Park.  With miles of paved drives overlooking forested vistas, the park is a particularly popular destination in the fall.  (We first stopped by the Farmhouse Cafe and Tearoom in nearby Bean Blossom for a BLT and potato salad to go.  A tranquil autumn picnic in the park.)

Closeby, a still driveable covered bridge transports you not only across the water but to a different era.

More to know…

The Miller House Garden designhttps://www.gardendesign.com/indiana/columbus-miller-house.html

Architecture in Columbus – https://columbus.in.us/architecture-story/

Joseph Irwin Miller – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-cathedral-builder-in_b_7033742\

Our AirBnb was only a couple of blocks from downtown.  It was quiet, comfortable and well-equipped.

Try this link to search for the AirBnb.