Mexico is one of the places that I added onto my bucket list as a result of Instagram. To be honest, it had never even crossed my mind going there before I saw all those beautiful photos of other travellers. Until then, all I had heard about this country was mostly negative and as a result, I perceived Mexico as being a dangerous place where you end up either with diarrhoea, robbed, drugged, kidnapped or murdered. To be fair, Mexico is dangerous, and you must be very cautious when exploring around. And you must also be careful what and where you eat. On top of that, despite what many people claim, a trip to Mexico is expensive (especially coming from Europe). Perhaps twice as much as what we were expecting. But it was totally worth the risk and every single penny spent. The Mexican Caribbean made it to the very top of my list almost immediately, even though not everything went as planned…
An eleven hour flight from London Gatwick to Cancun across the Atlantic Ocean offered stunning views. I had never seen such beautiful shades of blue before. After a couple of movies, a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory and a quick nap, we finally landed. Tired but bursting with excitement … only to be met by rain. That was a little disappointing for someone like me who was willing to spend eleven hours in economy class just to get some sunshine. Anyway, a warm welcome at the resort and a few mimosas made up for the initial disappointment. However, the second disappointing moment was not too far away. Actually, it was literally just around the corner. I rushed to the beach hoping to find a postcard worthy white sand beach with turquoise sea. Instead, I found a polluted sea full of seaweed and a very unpleasant odour. *Dramatic music cue…*
As this was our belated honeymoon, we got ourselves one of those suites with a private plunge pool and a Jacuzzi. This was our first time staying in a luxury resort of this kind and we were blown away… at least for the first few days. Very soon we realised that staying in a resort for too long was not for us as we got bored. Don’t get me wrong, the resort has a lot to offer and the staff are very nice (as long as you keep tipping them – because if you don’t you will get some naughty behaviour from them). Once our jet lag overcome, we started getting itchy feet and were ready to discover more about this part of the world.
Mexican resorts in general don’t like to see you leaving the premises without a guide. They will tell you all these terrifying stories trying to get you to pay for a guided tour. Well, in vain, because that is simply not for us. My original plan was to use public transport to travel around so as to have an authentic experience as well as save some money in the process! But my adventurous spirit was dampened by too many warnings and a realisation of how complicated Mexican public transport is. We opted for a rental car which was perfect for us. If you go to Mexico, we strongly recommend it!
It will probably come as no surprise to you that I had a long list of places I wanted to see (Instagram and travel blogs inspired) nicely organised into daily road trips. It is also not surprising that Keivan could not possibly have rolled his eyes any louder when I introduced my trip schedule.
Our first stop was meant to be Cenote La Noria in Puerto Morelos. Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes and caves. In Yucatan, there are thousands of those and each of them is unique in its shape, location, size and character. It is hard to choose which ones to visit so I recommend doing a bit of research before your trip to see which one you would like the best. No need to worry about location because they are all around the place.
La Noria was close to us and was planned as our very first stop. As we were getting closer, the road looked abandoned, and it did not feel right. All the cenotes we passed so far had had clear signs and a cashier stall for you to pay entrance. According to our GPS we had ‘arrived at our destination’ but there was nothing there. We pulled over, and got out of the car to go and see if the cenote was a bit deeper into the woods. A local man we met along the way was quick to offer assistance. I used my basic level of Spanish to ask him for directions. He showed us a road to take towards the cenote. And so we did. However, after 10 minutes of unsteady driving on the off road we had to turn back. Our teeny-tiny Chevrolet would not have survived this journey. Plus, the place was just way too abandoned, and we did not feel comfortable. We got back to the main road, taking off towards our next stop without even seeing, let alone dipping our toes into La Noria…
Our second destination turned out to be more of a success. We visited the archaeological site in Coba – an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula, located in north-eastern Quintana Roo. We had chosen Coba over Chichen Itza for three reasons – it is less touristy, it is larger, and you can still climb the main ancient pyramid (note: they are planning to ban climbing it soon, so if you are keen to experience it, be quick!). There is a huge parking lot in front of the gate which is relatively cheap and a convenient option. When entering the site, you will see many local sellers offering you guides etc. My recommendation: do not waste your money on this. You can read the history of this place online and enjoy exploring it in peace by yourself at your own pace. The entry costs 70 pesos per person plus we had to pay 45 pesos for permission to take photos.
Remember, Coba is a really large area (it was once home to over 50,000 inhabitants), therefore renting a bicycle is highly recommended. The rental of a bike costs 50 pesos and it is absolutely worth it. Not only will it allow you to see more of this place, but it is fun, and it feels amazing cycling on sacbes. Sacbes, aka white roads, are original and a very unique feature of this Mayan city. Sacbes were built by Mayans in order to move among settlements and for commerce purposes. You will feel immersed in the history and the culture of the place. As you cycle around you will see many sculptures and settlements while being surrounded by beautiful nature (you are basically in the middle of a jungle). We both loved the place, but the highlight of this trip has to be the actual climb.
My favourite thing about traveling is that it gives me so many opportunities to get out of my comfort zone. Climbing Coba was one of them. For those of you who don’t know me, I am terrified of heights. And there I was, standing in front of a 137 feet tall pyramid with 120 very steep steps to climb. It took me about 45 minutes to get up (please also take into consideration the midday heat) but it was awesome! Not only did I get the satisfaction of conquering my fear of heights, but the view was breath-taking. The jungle looks like a green carpet from up there. Worth every drop of sweat. And yes, I felt like Indiana Jones :D.
Just a short drive from Coba, you can find three cenotes – Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Multun-Ha. We chose Choo-ha, a shallow water cenote. It felt like a blessing swimming in this cool underground cave after the climb. Entrance to Choo-Ha is 55 pesos, including parking and showers on site. Bonus: it is not a touristy place. There were only 5 of us there altogether, you could actually hear the water dripping down from the ceiling.
Our next trip was to famous Tulum. If you are at Riviera Maya, Tulum is a must-see. This beach town is full of beautiful cafes, restaurants and shops. However, my favourite bit was the local cenote. Cenote Calavera, a 10 minute drive from Tulum city centre, is probably the most fun cenote. In comparison to others, it is a bit pricey – 100 pesos per person, but then again it is totally worth it. This was a very important moment for me. As you can see on the pictures below, to get to the cenote you have to jump through a little dark hole in the ground. It looked so easy in the videos I watched online but standing there, looking into the dark hole full of flying bats suddenly did not seem such a good idea. After a few minutes of hesitation, I went for it and oh how I loved that moment so much! It reminded me that sometimes you simply have to hold your breath and jump without doing too much thinking.
Other places we visited included Playa de Carmen, which is great for shopping and the night life; Puerto Morelos, a cute fishing town with beautiful local markets and an ice-cream shop in a church (hahaha). After a little shopping, we sat down on the square in Puerto Morelos and we watched a group of local grandmas practicing dancing. Absolutely loved it! We also tried to visit Akumal beach, which is home to sea turtles which you can see when you go snorkelling. However, as I mentioned previously, at the time of our visit the whole Riviera Maya was suffering from bad sea weed pollution – meaning the turtles had moved further away from the beach and it was not possible to see them. (Note: Akumal beach is a private property and despite all of the discussions you see on Instagram, you have to pay for entrance to the beach. You should only pay the officials at the gate though and not the local sellers.)
Last but not least- our final trip was by far the grandest. This time around, we rented a jeep to be able to access off roads more easily (and for Keivan to be able to enjoy himself). Our first morning stop that day was cenote Suytun. By far my bucket list number 1. It was so beautiful I actually cried when I got in. We got there fairly early, so it was almost empty – perfect for soaking in that atmosphere and for picture taking. Just before midday it started getting a bit crowded and soon we understood why. There was a Mayan show taking place right in the middle of the cave. At the time, I was still in the water, which was very cold, but the chills I got weren’t from the water but the beauty of the ritual I was watching! It was so powerful and emotional. Suytun cenote should have its place on your list for sure. The entrance fee is 70 pesos, and includes the rental of a life vest (which is compulsory when swimming) as well as parking and showers.
In the parking lot we were approached by a young couple of backpackers who asked us for a lift to the nearby city of Valladolid. We had not planned on going there, but it was on our way, so we agreed to take them – and I am so glad we did! Thanks to them we discovered this beautiful city. It was pure Mexican. It was so colourful. We decided to stay for a while to walk around. It is not a touristy destination at all, people can’t even speak English there. It was a fantastic experience. Sadly, we could not stay long though because we had our last destination to reach before sunset – the pink lakes of Las Coloradas in Rio Lagartos.
It took us around two hours of driving from Valladolid to Rio Lagartos. Most of the way we passed through small local villages which was fascinating and heart-breaking at the same time. Poverty is a big issue in Mexico and as soon as you get away from the resort areas, you see it everywhere you go. Anyway… once we had passed the villages, we reached a protected rain forest where we did not meet another human being for the rest of the time. We only realised later how irresponsible that was as we did not have any supplies of food or water in the car. Those of you who have read the intro will remember the mosquitos story and my disappointment with the pink lake- this is where all of that happened. We ended this day by enjoying the empty beach in Rio Lagartos and then headed back to our resort in Cancun.
We spent our last days enjoying some recreational activities such as kayaking and cycling. We were lucky to experience the Mexican Independence Day Celebrations on the 16th of September – we are talking lots of dancing, singing, Mexican Folklore and loads of food!
Despite a few disappointments, Mexico was an amazing trip. The Mexican culture is fascinating, the food is surreal, and the colours everywhere are like a therapy for your soul. Besides, it reminded me again how amazing planet Earth is and I can’t wait to see more. Off to the next adventure soon…