The second half of our honeymoon was full of adventure (and ok, a bit more luxury). We decided to spend 5 days traveling through the Yucatan peninsula visiting Mayan ruins, cenotes and local cities. We wanted our visit to be stress-free so MJ did some research and found William Lawsons Personal Driving Service which would not only take us around the peninsula but our driver would also be a registered tour guide! We met our guide, Angel, at the resort on Tuesday morning to begin our adventure.
Our first visit was to the ruins of Ek’ Balam. This was a really cool site, with multiple structures to climb, including the huge main temple. It wasn’t until I climbed to the top that I fully appreciated how hot it was out (and that I hadn’t brought enough water!).
I was pretty tired after wandering around those ruins in the heat, so I was delighted when our tour guide was able to find Cenote Hubiku, just north of Valladolid where we were spending the night. A cenote is a “a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, characteristic of Mexico, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneat” (wikipedia). There are thousands in the Yucatan and many that are equipped for people to swim in. Cenote Hubiku had a small admission fee and full, modern facilities for changing before swimming. We caught them at the tail end of their day, but got a good 20 minutes of swimming in the beautiful, cool cenote before being on our way. It was the perfect thing for post ruin exploration.
For dinner we went to Taberna de los Frailes for a delicious dinner that included a grilled watermelon with cheese appetizer (which I wouldn’t have ordered, but the waiter recommended it). We retired for the night at Casa Hamaca Guesthouse which was a cute little inn in the heart of Valladolid. Even better, the proprietor Denis Larsen is a northeast US expat who was exceptionally welcoming and helpful the next morning as we enjoyed banana pancakes and chatted about everything from our shared love of Google Docs for collaboration to tips for the rest of our stay in the Yucatan.
We then spent the day exploring the beautiful city of Valladolid. We visited the small San Roque Museum and then spent some time walking around the main square. From there we did some shopping and I picked up a couple of the traditional embroidered blouses that Valladolid is famous for. We also got a couple of brimmed hats for further ruin exploration. Mid-day we met up with Angel who took us to the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and Cenote Zaci – a cenote right in town! We didn’t swim but it was nice to visit.
Come late afternoon it was time to start driving toward Mérida to check in to Hacienda Xcanatun boutique hotel for the night. This former hacienda was one of the many in the region that used to be a sisal (fiber) plantation. This was my favorite hotel. The rooms were sprawling and while modernized, still held an architectural feel and basic layout similarities to what I’d expect from and old hacienda. We had dinner at their famous on-site restaurant of the same name.
The next day was Uxmal! Plus a couple other sites on the Puuc Route. Uxmal was a major city and so touring the ruins takes several hours. We managed to see most of it and had a lot of fun climbing around several of their major structures (only the largest and a few minor sites had climbing prohibited). This site really rivals Chichen Itza in how big and amazing the ruins are, definitely one of my favorites.
Next on our list to visit for the day was Kabah. Most amazing about this place was its famous “Palace of the Masks” which was a whole building covered on one side with ornate faces of stone. You’re allowed to climb up to and around the palace, making this probably my favorite small site we visited.
The last ruin site we visited was Sayil where we just visited the Palace of Sayil (the site was very spread out, with buildings up to 1 mile apart). Like so many of these palaces, it was an impressive and imposing sight! No climbing up the structure allowed though.
Our final new site of the day was the Ecomuseo del Cacao. Our first hint that this place wasn’t quite up to par with the rest of our day was the clue from Angel that, while a traditional Mayan thing, cacao doesn’t actually grow naturally in the Yucatan because it’s not humid enough. The museum had it’s moments but was a bit too polished and cheesy. It was nice visiting the grove of artificially maintained cocoa trees and the hot chocolate tasting at the end was probably worth the entrance fee.
From there we headed back to Uxmal for a sound and light show. I hadn’t read great things about it online, so I was prepped for something really cheesy, but I admit having really enjoyed it. The main track being broadcast is in Spanish, but you can rent headphones in several languages so you can hear the stories going along with the show that paint a picture of what it may have been like in the height of civilization there. It was also then that I noticed how beautifully clear the sky was out there, you could see so many stars.
That night we checked into Hacienda Temozon. It was a beautiful property, advertisements for it are quick to tell you that Bill Clinton stayed there once and the only owned by a major American company. The rooms were large, but it turns out perhaps not the right place to stay during ant season. Staying true to some of the age of the place, it didn’t have glass on the windows so everything was quite open-air and the doors covering the windows didn’t seal (you could put your finger through some of the gaps). I did enjoy a wonderful Mexican omelette in the morning.
Angel picked us up in the late morning and, knowing our interest in cenotes, decided to take us to a less touristy one that he knew of, Cenote Kankirixché. It wasn’t a fancy, staffed cenote like the previous ones we’d been to, we had to change in the van and then it was just a hole in the ground and a somewhat questionable wooden staircase taking you down to the water. It was beautiful and refreshing though!
From there we were off to the city of Mérida! First stop was to check in to the stunningly modern Rosas and Xocolate boutique hotel before heading across the street to the Anthropology and History Museum. The museum is located in the former Canton Palace and while all in Spanish the exhibits mostly spoke for themselves. My favorite exhibits were one of one of the earlier expeditions to the Yucatan where many of the Puuc sites we explored, seeing photos from those sites before they were uncovered and restored was really cool. They also had a local embroidery exhibit upstairs which, seeing them in context, made me really happy about my beautiful blouse purchases in Valladolid.
Then it was off to the Grande Plaza district of Merida where we had lunch at Amaro. We did some shopping and were able to visit the Casa de los Montejo and the Palacio de Gobierno with it’s captivating murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco. We enjoyed dinner back at the hotel and in all a relaxing night.
Unfortuantely the adventures had to come to an end at some point, our last day was spent visiting the famous Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is a huge settlement and we spent over 3 hours exploring it. It was more crowded than any of the other sites we went to, but the benefit of going in the hottest part of the year is that it wasn’t overwhelming with people at all. One of the interesting things about it though was while it’s expensive for tourists to enter (up to 5 times as much as other sites), the whole inside was filled with vendors! Angel told us it was because it used to be privately owned and they owner brought in all these vendors, and when it was transferred to more government run thing they kept the vendors. At first it was a little off-putting to have so many vendors throughout the archaeological site, but I came to realize that these vendors were selling on-topic keepsakes that tourists (including myself) were interested in buying, and technically these people are descendants of the Mayans who built this city – this is theirs. It also brought a liveliness to the site that was lacking at the other sites, I appreciated them by the time we were wrapping up our day there. And what a day. You couldn’t climb any of the ruins but it’s probably for the best, even just walking among these giants in the heat was enough to tire me out considerably.
We spent our last night in Mexico in Cancun so we’d have easy access to the airport the following morning. MJ picked a hotel on the beach where we could have a romantic private cabana dinner. Perfect wrap up to our honeymoon :)