With not much time left in our journey through Latin America, we breezed through Belize on old school buses and crossed the border at Chetumal, Mexico. We only had 12 days to spend in Mexico before flying out of Cancun to the U.S. and we didn’t have a plan or a Mexico guidebook. Luckily, we met some American girls in a hostel who told us about their own journey in the Yucatan Peninsula, and just like that, we decided where we’d spend our time. After one night in the unassuming town of Chetumal, pigging out on the authentic Mexican food we had so been looking forward to, we grabbed a bus north to Tulum.
Tulum – Mexico
Famous mainly just for it’s beachside Mayan ruins, we didn’t know what else to expect of Tulum. The town itself was nothing more than one long street filled with eateries and shops, and the hotel zone was a short taxi ride beyond that, spread out on a rural road for about 7 kilometers along the beach, ending in the north at the ruins. At the bus station, we had asked some backpackers where they’d stayed, and they recommended the Papaya Playa, where we then stayed for three days. All the cabanas blended right in with the simple surroundings, built with native materials and set on the most gorgeous beach we had seen in a long time. And you should take it from us, as we have seen lots of beaches! The sand was powdery white, the water was an aqua color that absolutely mesmerized us, and the beach stretched so long that it always felt secluded. Though more luxurious rooms were available, we stayed in simple wood cabanas, with mosquito net covered beds and limited electricity. We soaked up the tranquility of Tulum, ate fantastic food in town, met two great couples from Australia and Europe, and visited the Tulum ruins along with all the tourist crowds. It was worth dealing with hordes of tourists though, to see the interesting ruins and then swim below them in the gorgeous water.
The main destination that the girls from the hostel had recommended to us was a place that we had never heard of before. We couldn’t even pronounce the name of the tiny island on the Gulf Coast called Holbox (say ‘Hol-bosh’), but when they told us that it was a very quiet fisherman village with nice beaches and the chance to snorkel with whale sharks, we were sold. Just three hours from Cancun, we took the short ferry ride from Chiquila to Holbox Island, where we discovered a rural village of dirt roads, golf cart transport, relaxed locals, and quiet beaches. We spent a few days each at Villas Chimay and Villas Delfines, relaxing in lovely, eco-friendly cabanas, dining on Mexican snacks and seafood, and walking the endless beach. Though Isla Holbox was a fantastic destination in itself, being there during the whale shark season made it even more of a highlight, as the shallow Yucatan Channel, just an hours boat ride from Holbox, welcomes over 200 whale sharks to its waters in July & August. Holbox Travel & Tours took us on their nice boat out to the channel, where we were immediately surrounded by 7 or 8 whale sharks, then had a chance to swim right next to these awesome, gentle creatures that stretched up to 7 meters (21 ft.). Truly unbelievable!
Cancun – Mexico
So far, the information we got from other travelers had helped us to have a great trip in the Yucatan, but if we had listened to all the negative comments that people made about Cancun, we may have never gotten to experience this exciting city. Known mainly for its hedonistic, Americanized hotel zone packed with resorts, bars and shops, many say that Cancun is not really Mexico, but then is Las Vegas not really the United States? Surely it’s a part of it, and if you explore further, you see that Vegas is much more than just The Strip and Cancun is more than just The Hotel Zone. From our base of Hostel Chacmool in the old downtown area, we enjoyed plenty of the ‘real Mexico’, surrounded by residences, quiet parks, and plazas filled with local families, festivities and food stalls. From there, we could easily jump on to one of the frequent buses that run out to the hotel zone, where we had a ball with three of Bex’s girlfriends who came to meet us for a Cancun holiday. The hotel zone was just as touristy as expected, but was also quite beautiful and welcoming, with a mangrove lagoon and gorgeous beaches running along either side of the long, entertainment filled road. We couldn’t get enough of the crystal clear aqua water and powdery beach and loved the nightlife for great dancing, live music and drunken revelry. The girls even treated us to a day tour to Isla Mujeres, where we all partied on a huge boat, snorkeled on the reef, and ate and drank to our hearts content.
After five months of traveling through Latin America, we have had so many amazing experiences, seen so many landscapes, met so many great people, and fell in love with a dozen cultures and cuisines. We highly recommend South America, Central America and Mexico as fascinating, beautiful, safe travel destinations. Que le vaya bien! We’re off to New York City, USA…
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico Travel Tips:
** Some parts of Mexico are great places to test out the strength of your insect repellent. Dawn and dusk are the worst times for mosquitoes and sand flies so prepare accordingly.
**The buses in Mexico are fantastic, with three classes you can choose from and for pretty cheap fares. Check and double check departure times as per usual as local guides and guide book times can change. Best way is to check the departure times for your next destination when you first arrive at the station.
Rebecca Rasmus – Written in 2004 – Mexico