Travel Mexico to the Land of the Maya
As you can see from our previous stories about Greece and London, we like to travel, but we also like to share our experiences. This time, we will introduce you to Mexico. We hope that the following will make you want to try the adventure and that if you have to leave, it will help you build your trip.
I did not really expect to travel to Mexico. Other than Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, and Quai Branly the Yucatan was a real revelation. I was fascinated by the finesse of Mayan art, the mysterious and captivating atmosphere of the sites lost in the jungle, the serenity of the small colonial cities, and the flavors of Southern Mexico cuisine.
We chose to go there for half a month to visit Mexico City because that's where we landed. Then we venture into the jungle of Chiapas, before crossing the Yucatan, to finish on the beaches of the Caribbean Sea.
Day 1: Mexico City
We take the plane early in the morning to Paris and then take the second flight (12 hours) to Mexico City. We arrive at 7 in the morning. We go downtown with the taxi because we were in a hurry. From the airport of Mexico City to the center there are both the metro and the bus. They cost very little and are both comfortable.
We reach the hotel and came out to have the first Mexican street food. For the occasion, we order tacos and quesadillas in a really cheap taqueria in the center of Mexico City where everyone starts to dance among the tables.
We move towards the center and walk in all the main streets until we reach the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Zocalo, the local square, where families and passers-by meet. We also visit the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (here we climbed the bell tower), the National Palace (closed for events), the Templo Mayor, and all the architectural wonders of the area.
After the last round in the streets of Mexico, we reached the Tapo terminal, from where we took a bus to Puebla. Once in Puebla, there are two ways to get to the city center by a taxi or a bus. We opted for this last proposal, less expensive but especially more local. Given the condition of vehicles and roads, it is not without risk!
Then, after having put our things at the hotel, we went to lunch in a small typical restaurant just next to the hotel, where we order a comida corrida. Comida corrida is our daily menu and usually consists of a soup or broth, the main course and sometimes a dessert. We taste the local specialty, the mole poblano, a sauce made with cocoa, almonds, peppers, which often accompanies the chicken.
We then spent the afternoon in Cholula (10 minutes from Puebla), a city famous for its church. We see a breathtaking view of the Popocatepetl, the mountain that has an active stratovolcano. There is also the largest pyramid in Mexico buried underground! Back in Puebla, we visited the center before going to the restaurant.
Then we move west to the districts of Roma and Condesa until we reach the Bosque de Chapultepec. Along the gate there was a beautiful photographic exhibition on the history of Mexico. From there, we took the metro to the National Museum of Anthropology. We saw the skeleton of Lucy, 3.2 million years old, and great reenactments. We stay here until after sunset.
We have dinner in the city center. After that, we went back to the hotel to change rooms. Indeed, when we had booked, there were only double rooms left. So we took a single room, less spacious but less expensive. We then go to sleep.
Day 2: Oaxaca
In the morning we wake up early, in time to see the sunrise in this wonderful town. We get on the bus that will take us to Oaxaca. On the bus, there is a polar cold. I wear two fleece sweatshirts and wrap a blanket. We can sleep enough and at 11:30 am we are in Oaxaca. We reach on foot in 5 minutes to our hostel. The owner welcomes us and lets us use the bathroom to freshen ourselves (since our room is not ready yet).
Well rested, we were motivated to visit the surroundings of Oaxaca. We have breakfast in a nearby bar and decide to take a tour to explore the surroundings of Oaxaca. On the agenda for this day is Tule, Mitla and Hierve el Agua.
For the following cities, we did not take an organized tour, because we had seen that the time devoted to each site was very low (30 minutes to 1-hour maximum). On our own initiative, we took a bus to Tule, to admire the famous sacred tree, more than 1000 years old.
Then we take a bus from Tule to go to Mitla, but it was impossible. We had to pick up a taxi so that it drops us on the side of a road. We lost a lot of time. We arrived in Mitla around 4pm, saying that it was too late for Hierve el Agua. So we gave up to take full advantage of this small village, which lives mainly of the manufacture of mezcal (alcohol with cactus where there is a silkworm at the bottom), carpets, ponchos and a little atypical taxis!
Back in Oaxaca, we visit a new restaurant, a little far from the center, but was really very good! We spend the day getting to see Oaxaca. We move through its markets: Mercado Juarez and Mercado de Artesanias. There is a little bit of everything in these wonderful places from the mole, peppers, sweets, fabrics, jewelry to colored seeds.
Then we move to the center, between the Zocalo, the main avenues, and the alleys that branch off to the outskirts, full of colorful little doors and elaborate murals. We move towards the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman and the fair trade markets that surround it. Oaxaca is a wonderful city. It is warm, serene, without tourists, colorful, and true. In particular, we wanted to climb Fortin Hill to get an overview of the city. But we could not due to the rain!
So, after waiting almost an hour under a porch, we had to resolve to turn around. So we went back to the hotel to look for our things. But, that's where we noticed that there was also a city bus strike! Not wanting to take the taxis that had doubled their prices, we walk nearly 45 minutes in the rain to reach the first class terminal and take our night bus to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.
Day 3: San Cristobal
After twelve hours of the perilous journey on mountain roads in bad condition (landslides, missing sections of road), we still arrived well in San Cristobal de las Casas. Our first mission, as arriving in each city is to find a good hotel that is not too expensive. We visited several, but without much satisfaction. So we decided to go to the one, which was advised by a few people we met on the bus. This small hostel offers, in addition to dormitories, private rooms, with breakfast included.
We leave early in the morning for for San Juan Chamula moving in the late morning to Zinacantan. They are two villages in the hills around San Cristobal. They are really traditional and typical, especially San Juan Chamula, a small Indian village, lost in the mountains, famous for its picturesque religious rites. We chose to discover the local market. On the other hand, we regretted not to return to the Church, which is famous for its animal sacrifices.
During the preparation of our trip, we had heard a lot about the Sumidero Canyon, partly because of the crocodiles that inhabit it. We had told ourselves that this would be a necessary step in our journey. So we inquired with the tourist office to find out what it was better to do: go there on our own or take a trip? And finally, after comparison, we realized that it was cheaper to go through an agency and that in addition, was much simpler, since the trip was direct.
We leave for the Sumidero Canyon and the nearby village of Chiapa de Corzo. The village is nice, but nothing special. We encounter a very characteristic procession. The Canon is majestic. Sailing on the river with the mountains around 1 kilometer high leaves us truly breathless. And even the crocodiles around I have to say.
Our boat broke down right in the middle of the canyon. We were first towed by another boat. We have advanced like that a good ten minutes, the time an empty boat comes to pick us up. So we had to change boats in the middle of the water. In the end, our ride lasted four hours instead of two. But do not worry, we are not at all disappointed, because we could still see some crocodiles!
We head to the Taller Lenateros, a recycled paper workshop, where you can buy postcards and some original gifts, followed by the Guadalupe Church, which overlooks the entire city. Then we finished the afternoon at the Amber Museum, to admire mosquitoes and fossilized spiders, as Jurassic Park. We walk through the center and the main streets, visit all the nicer churches and eat in a small bar.
In the evening we celebrate the New Year on Real de Guadalupe, the central street of San Cristobal, full of clubs and music. We had dinner in the restaurant, not very typical, but had the advantage of being good, cheap and especially near our hotel. Here for the first time, we were able to order a chili con carne. And yes, contrary to what we thought, it's not a Mexican specialty, but Texan! But that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves. We ended this day consoling ourselves with a drink!
Day 4: Palenque
In the morning we take the bus to Palenque. We wanted to stop in this city because we knew it was possible to sleep in the jungle of El Panchan. So, once at the bus station, and just after having had time to book the next day's trip, here we are in a Collectivo (minibus) that took us there. The journey lasts 7 hours.
For this night, we chose the cabins. At first glance, it looked really nice, but after putting our stuff, we quickly realized that there were spaces between the boards, under the doors. Not very reassuring when we know that we rub shoulders with scorpions, spiders, snakes and howler monkeys!
We then left for Misol-Ha and Agua Azul, thanks to an excursion that we had booked the day before, with the agency. It was also possible to go on our own, but since these two sites are quite far from Palenque, we found it wiser to bring them there.
We stayed about an hour in Misol-Ha, and so we could enjoy this magnificent waterfall of 30 meters high. Moreover, it was there that was shot one of the scenes of the movie Predator, the one where Schwarzenegger jumps from the cliff before covering himself with mud. We also tried to go behind but had to turn back because of the passports with us. So, if you go, put everything aside, except the swimsuit!
After this small shower, we head to Agua Azul. Finally, that's what was planned! And yes, because in Mexico, the question is not whether we will break down, but when will we break down? And for us, it was in a mountain bend. So, to secure us, the driver of the truck went in the left lane and went down part of the mountain, in reverse, until finding a way to park.
Fortunately, less than an hour later, another van picked us up. It took us to Agua Azul! From here we go to the Palenque ruins, the Maya site. We decided to take a 3-hour guided tour together with a gentleman who was born inside the archaeological site because his father was a caretaker. He takes us into the jungle for the first hour, to show us the still buried Palenque. It is truly a unique and precious emotion, one of the best moments of all my travels. Then he tells us stories that we would never know alone.
Back in El Panchan, and with some people we met on the spot, we had a pizza and drink to the joys and galleys of Mexico. The night was long, very long.
Day 5: Yucatan
We wake up at 5am, to visit the Yaxchilan and Bonampak Mayan cities, near the Guatemalan border (180 km from Palenque). These were built in the middle of the jungle and are well worth the detour. We recommend them, especially Yaxchilan, for its Indiana Jones side and lost temples. Three hours after our departure, we finally arrive at the village of Frontera Corozal. From there, there is no choice but to take a boat to reach Yaxchilan.
After 45 minutes on the Rio Usumacinta, which serves as a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala, we find ourselves on the site of Yaxchilan, where it is possible to wander in old temples. Attention, the flashlight is essential to find the exit and also to avoid bats and spiders. The outside is not much more reassuring with its snakes and howler monkeys.
But, at the same time, a jungle remains a jungle, and we would not have loved it so much without this adventurer side! Back to Frontera Corozal, we have lunch in one of the village restaurants, before continuing our way to Bonampak. The site is quite nice but much less impressive than the previous one. On the other hand, we could rub shoulders with the local population, the Lacandon Indians, recognizable by their white tunic and their long hair.
We decided to start Yucatan by Campeche. Campeche is one of the jewels of colonial architecture in the region, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. I liked its multicolored houses with ornate balconies, cobbled streets, and entertainment on the zocalo. We go for lunch to the end of Avenida Costera, in one of the straw huts bordering the seafront.
We sip a glass of horchata (a sweet rice-based drink) with a pan de cazon, an overlay of corn tortillas stuffed with black beans and crab. If Campeche illustrates Spanish splendor, Edzna, an hour away is another sleeping beauty that bears witness to the past glory of the Maya. I was blown away by this site, maybe because it was the first big Mayan site of the trip, and because we had the chance to visit it without tourists.
Apart from a few iguanas, we had Edzna for us! The most impressive building is the Great Temple, built on top of a gigantic stone platform flanked by two smaller structures. When you climb to the top of the platform, then climb the stairs, you feel like the first person to discover this lost place in the vegetation. These huge stone vessels are like a mirage in the middle of the jungle.
This city is the only one that is fortified in Mexico, although today, there is not much left. It is also known for being calm and relaxing, maybe even a little too much for us. So, we were bored and preferred to leave. In the evening, around 11 pm, we take the night bus to Merida.
Day 6: Valladolid
Once in Merida, which is also the capital of Yucatan, we start looking for a place to sleep. It will be at the hotel, not exceptional, but not too expensive, and especially well located (a few steps from the center and the bus station, which is rather practical).
Then, we go to the Zocalo and its small merchants. This is where you can get a hammock, since they are manufactured a few kilometers from Merida, Tixkokob. In the evening, the merchants share the zocalo with groups of music, who come for public concerts.
In the early morning, we take a ride in Merida and rent the car. We start towards Izamal, the city all yellow. A small Mayan pyramid seems lost in the middle of the city, in the midst of colonial houses all painted in the same ocher-yellow hue that gives Izamal a unique luminosity. Izamal is dominated by a gigantic yellow ocher convent, built by the Franciscan monks on the remains of another Mayan pyramid.
There is an atmosphere a little out of time in this city whose streets are traced with the line, crushed by the sun, or old mobilettes alongside carriages for tourists. It was really pretty and special. We were there for an hour, just for some photos and a breakfast. There's nothing, except that everything is all very yellow. We leave again towards Chichen Itza. In an hour or so we have arrived.
Even here we decide to invest a few hundred pesos in a guide. The choice was apt, because going alone to Chichen Itza, in my opinion, means to not understand anything and get bothered by the cackling American tourists. Unfortunately, Chichen Itza is really very touristy. I left with a very bitter taste, especially for the comparison with Palenque. Then there is also the positive part of course. The biggest pyramid - El Castillo is really the most beautiful of all.
From there we move to the Cenote Ik Kil. It was fascinating but super touristic and full of Americans who dive with the orange life jackets. Around there they built a hotel. From Santa Elena, we reached Celestun, a city placed between the lagoon and the sea, on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Here are several ecosystems.
First the lagoon, refuge for hundreds of flamingos, then the mangrove rustling life hidden in the intertwining branches, and finally the sea, with pelicans and fishermen. To explore the lagoon, we embarked on one of the flat-bottomed boats covered by a small awning waiting for the visitors. Our last stop is Valladolid. It was very pretty, that deserves an evening, nothing more in my opinion.
Day 7: Tulum
In the morning we leave from Valladolid with our car in the direction of Coba. It was a beautiful site, all in the countryside. We saw it on a bike, this time without a guide (which is a shame because much of the sense is lost, but after the first two guided tours the themes start to repeat a bit).
The highest pyramid is beautiful where you can climb. From up there, we can see all the jungle, only jungle as far as the eye can see. From Coba, we proceed towards Tulum, a very touristic site, mainly because it is right on the sea. The Maya remains are not as impressive as those of the other sites. An hour is enough to get around the site. Around, like everywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula, they built a kind of tourist mall.
Then, after a good meal and some margaritas, we decide to spend the afternoon at the beach.
It was a day dedicated to the Mayan Riviera. I advise you to spend it at Cenote Dos Ojos. The gran cenotes are underwater caves, filled with fresh water where you can swim, snorkel or dive. We wanted to do at least one during our stay. So we opted for Gran Cenote which is apparently one of the most beautiful in the region. It is possible to go by taxi, Collectivo or bike since it is only 3 km from Tulum. We chose the bikes we rented from our hotel.
Once there, we rented the equipment (mask, snorkel, flashlight) to explore the place. We then took the bikes to reach the ruins of Tulum, where we stopped in the small commercial area for lunch. We then took the opportunity to make our tourists and make us photograph with an iguana. We then spent the afternoon on the beach with its palm trees.
The beaches are also beautiful. For those who want to swim with dolphins, there is Akumal, a place famous for its many sea turtles. We took advantage of this day to go to Xel-Ha, a sort of amusement park in the American style, set in a lagoon of 14 hectares.
After donning a life jacket, mask, and snorkel, we were able to swim with tropical fish and descend the river by snorkeling or buoy. We explore underwater caves and cross the monkey bridge and the floating bridge. We even, we rest in hammocks, surrounded by iguanas. So we stayed all day to enjoy this place. And to end the day, nothing like a few cocktails, followed by a good little restaurant.
In the evening from Cancun every half hour, there is a ferry to Isla Mujeres.
Day 8: Cancun
We head to Isla Cozumel. To do this, we take a collectivo to Playa del Carmen, followed by a ferry to reach the island. The latter is renowned around the world for its seabed. Many people go there for diving. We stopped there for a few days. After putting our stuff at the hotel, simple but not very expensive for the island, we go in search of a dive center. We wander without much success, since the only address listed, no longer exists.
We drove along the west coast to Parque Punta Sur, 27 km from San Miguel, where we spent a good part of the day. We were able to wander as we please in this large natural area, populated by sea turtles, crocodiles. To finish we go to the top of the lighthouse, which offers an overview on the site. After the park, we continued our tour of the island on the east coast, wilder, until we found ourselves in San Miguel, our starting point.
The end of the holiday is approaching. It is time for us to visit Cancun. We take the ferry then a bus. Once there, we look for a place to sleep. It will be at the hotel. We leave then to cross the city to find some gifts to bring back like tequila, mezcal, and cigars. Then, in the middle of our purchases, we take our third shower of the stay, and surely the most important.
But, fortunately after the rain, comes the good weather. And nothing better to enjoy than the terrace of the hotel with, as a bonus, the view of the main square. We wandered on the beaches of Cancun. So we passed magnificent villas and sumptuous hotels.
Day 9: Teotihuacan
We rent a golf car and we launch the exploration of the island to Punta Sur. There were lighthouses, turtles, wonderful cliffs, and dream empanadas. Isla Mujeres is truly a paradise and tourism is not as oppressive as in the whole Yucatan Peninsula. We take a ferry to Cancun and a flight to Mexico City. Back in Mexico, we wanted to have fruit juice. So we went to a one very close to our hotel, where there is a large selection of mocktails. Here we finally ended up ordering hot dogs and French fries.
We head north of Mexico City by metro and bus, to see the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan. Before leaving the site, we stopped in a small shop for lunch. On the menu were enchiladas (in green) and quesadillas (in red). When we had planned our trip, we had promised ourselves to go to Xochimilco (20 km south of Mexico City), a place where we have to take boats called lanchas to reach the market, and where Mexicans love to go there. So we took advantage to do a tour.
As soon as we got out of the train, we got docked by a toucher who took us to the tourist area, to rent us a lancha. But, on our guide, it was indicated that there were public lanchas. So we insisted heavily on where they were, and after telling us there was none, he ended up showing us the direction. Finally, we did not regret our choice, since we spent our afternoon surrounded by about thirty Mexicans.
We returned to the hotel around 6 pm to leave around 8 pm in search of the restaurant that we will not find. The night had fallen, so we decided to return on the Zocalo, to finally finish at the restaurant that we dropped on the first day. At least we were sure we were not disappointed!
Day 10: Mexico City
We dedicate our last day in Mexico to discover the neighborhood of Coyoacan and Frida Kahlo. We arrived at the Casa Azul and remain ecstatic. It was a magical place. It really deserves a visit. It's a place that enters you. A bit like all of Mexico. Then we took the Calle Madero to visit the Alameda Park, which, it seems, is one of the prettiest in Mexico! My journey ends here. After the Casa Azul, there is only a succession of means of transport to the bed of my house.