When I found out I was blessed with a whole two weeks off for the holiday, I knew I had to get out and chase the summer sun. I booked my flight to Cancun using my best kept secret and favorite student airline website, STA. I had approx. 8 days to plan for this trip (cheapest trip I’ve ever planned). The flight from Tampa, FL to Cancun, Mexico was approx. 2 hours. I barely had time to get a few doodles in before the flight attendant was passing out customs declaration cards.
Cancun to Merida: I didn’t want anything to do with Cancun so I took the first bus outta there and headed west, to Merida. When I arrived to Merida, people were in high spirits, on the night of December 25, 2015. The bustling capital city was in full swing… cultural events happening in the square, and children happily playing in the park with their new toy from Santa. Couples were strolling down the colonial style boulevards hand in hand, smiling.
I will never forget the feeling that came over me in the square that night, with the warm breeze on my skin, ice cream in my hand, the sound of kids laughing, the church bells ringing after a nightly Christmas ceremony, and my heart full of curiosity and wonder.
DAY TWO: Chichen Itza: “Wow these Mayans knew their stuff!!!” – me, blurting out my 2 cents during Ivans tour @ CI. (Stuff= astronomy)
First thoughts of this ruin. Spectacular, historical, and significant archeology site but WOW CROWDED. Being only two hours from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, also means cruise goers get a chance to bombard this place. BTW. Many local vendors are allowed in the 7th Wonder of the World, they aggressively try to get you to buy their art, trinkets, and jaguar noise makers (my personal favorite).
Chichen Itza management is psycho about bringing in backbacks or bags larger than a fannypack, you either leave it in your van/car or you throw it in an unorganized closet with everyone elses things tagged. (Spent 20 minutes sweating in a hot closet throwing around trekking bags, large backpacks, and suitcases before finally finding my small backpack, storage for bags there is an absolute joke).
Insider Tip’s continued: Bring snacks, a massive bottle of water, hat, and sunglasses. It was mcSteamy in December.
DAY THREE: Uxmal
Tucked away one hour southwest from Merida lies one of Mexico’s best kept secrets, Uxmal. Situated amid hills in the Puuc region sits this impressive ancient civilization, where you may climb, run, jump and play. Which is exactly what I did! Visited Kabah after Uxmal – I was amazed how everything looked almost untouched.
Quick shout out to my peeps over at Mayan Heritage for hooking it up with some awesome tours to Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Met some wonderful people along the way. Reasonably priced, knowledgeable guides (like Ivan) and reliable transportation!
Accommodation in Merida: Nomada Hostal – Swam laps and lounged around in their huge pool, made fruit cups in the AM, and did yoga in the courtyard. Pool is quiet lovely after a full day of tours.
After being a history buff for a few days it was time to hit the road, to the colonial city of Valladolid.
DAY FOUR and FIVE: Valladolid
Allow yourself to get lost in the quiet neighborhoods, while taking notice of the remarkable architectural beauty this colonial city holds. I kept asking people I met at my hostal if a festival was going on because everyone seemed so vibrant, lively, and generally happy. My friend Aji said “vida es una fiesta aqui” or “life is a party here.”
I was chatting with Aji (hostal worker) and he told me of a nearby sinkhole that wasn’t as popular as the rest, I was quite intrigued. We hopped on some free bikes and pedaled outta town together. I remember biking down the long stone driveway leading up to the hacienda thinking how lovely the fields and trees contrasted the beautiful building.
I would have never found this untouched cenote if it weren’t for me asking the locals and getting information. Cenote Oxman was one of the most remarkable places I have ever been in my life. We swung from ropes, jumped, dove, and swam. It was incredible.
Meeting Aji made me reflect (even more) on a continuous thought I have while travelling.. And that is, it’s admirable people can find happiness in circumstances of poverty as well as in circumstances of plenty. That’s the resilience of the human spirit after all. :)
DAY SIX and SEVEN: Tulum
Where your feet walk along secluded beaches… your skin feels the balmy breeze, your body plays in jade-green waters, and all your drinks come in coconuts.
Tulum is a trendy retreat for wellness, yoga, and eco- resorts.
Here’s what yo girl did in Tulum:
Check into Tulum’s newest and chicest lodging accommodation, Hostel Che. Rent a bike at Kelly Cycles for 85 mex for 24 hours ($6 dollars lol). Head NE to the beach, pop into the boutique hotels, maybe do some pool hopping at the resorts!
Insider Tip: If you plan on going to the Tulum ruins go at 8 am, to beat all cruise goers. Advantages: you’ll get great photos, it won’t be crowded, you will have more time to appreciate the site.
In town there are dozens of restaurants, shops, and bars on the main street, Tulum Ave. There is something for every traveler here, street food to fine dining. Meet some locals and meet some tourist, everyone is very friendly in this beach community.
Playa del Carmen: For my last night in Mexico I decided to just let loose, I took a bus with a guy who worked at Hostal Che and commutes from Tulum to Playa del Carmen. I ditched my bag in a hostal, and mingled with people from all over the world on the rooftop bar, where it just so happened to be ladies night as well – hello, free drinks. At some point during the night I made a pack with 7 Argentinians to stay up till 5 am (when my bus left for Cancun International Airport) they all agreed, needless to say we had a blast! Actually it was the craziest night of my life.
When you’re ballin’ on a budget sometimes you just gotta wing it throw your backpack in a hostal closet and just party till your flight the next day.
Not once did I encounter a situation that made me feel uncomfortable or question my safety. I traveled by bus using ADO the entire time and met other solo female travelers along the way.
Just like with any other destination you visit, use practical sense and follow your gut. Don’t let generalizations about the safety of an entire country deter you from exploring the Yucatan and Quintana Roo, Mexico!