I have returned from an amazing two weeks in Mexico! It was simply wonderful, beautiful, and exhilarating. Everything travel is for me. I did everything I wanted to do and then some, many many happy memories were created, and absolutely NO REGRETS on anything.
While I take some time to decompress, select the best photos, and write out the stories from my many adventures, AND go back to my 40 hour work week AND attend my new bookkeeping class, for now, I have put together a highlights/best of/worst of snapshot of my trip. It was easy to compile since my detail-oriented self takes thorough notes and tracks everything :)
Number of kilometers biked: about 65 (that is about 40 miles! wow!)
For not being an avid cyclist at home nor being interested in really becoming one, I completely surprised myself by biking my booty off on this trip to get to some amazing places, that were truly best explored by bike. It also helps that the Yucatan is as flat as a pancake. San Francisco (where I live), not so much.
Number of miles traveled by bus: 1,120
I stuck to my planned route of traveling through inland Yucatan, then down to Palenque in Chiapas state, and then looping back up to Tulum on the Caribbean coast. It was A LOT to pack into two weeks and I only skimmed the surface of some of these places, but I’m so glad I saw them all plus I had a generous 5 days in Tulum to end the trip on. I was open to changing the route as I went along, but I didn’t need to/want to. Am I a good planner or what? My exact route: Cancun-Playa del Carmen-Valladolid-Merida-Palenque-Tulum-Cancun.
Number of buses traveled in: 8
Number of beds slept in: 6 plus one night bus
Best hostel experience: Mango Tulum
The English owners of Mango Tulum know how to run an excellent hostel/hotel. The dorm room was spacious, clean, and had separated sink/toilet/shower areas. Plus a lovely garden to hang out in, tea available 24/7, helpful staff, convenient bike rental (which I took advantage of every day!) and in an ideal location in Tulum town. Well worth the $16/night. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the beach cabana scene while staying here in town.
The hotel garden and pool
Least favorite hostel: Excel Sense in Playa del Carmen
The hostel itself wasn’t a bad set up (it had some nice common spaces and it was clean), but I just didn’t have a good experience. Perhaps it was just bad timing, but I chose this hostel because it was out of the way of the main party section of town, which meant that it was not easy to get to and from town, and then there was a huge loud party on the hostel rooftop on my 2nd night there, that went well-past one in the morning. Not impressed. Also, the included breakfast sucked. Just cheap supermarket white bread and little jam packages. And coffee, but I don’t drink coffee…
Best accommodations of trip: Margarita and Ed’s Cabanas
My. Own. Room. Enough said! (Okay, there is more to be said, because if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, do check yourself into Margarita and Ed’s! They have very clean rooms (for only $20/night), are super friendly, and are right in the jungle near the ruins of Palenque.
Best backpacker vibe: Don Mucho’s in Palenque
Along with Margarita and Ed’s cabanas, the restaurant of Don Mucho’s is an institution in the El Panchan jungle that is situated just a few kilometers from the Palenque ruins. The restaurant itself provides great value (they don’t rip you off even though they could), tasty meals, live music most nights, and while it’s all backpackers (rather than locals) staying in this little nook of the Chiapas jungle, somehow, the atmosphere is done “right”. Well enough away from any cruise ship tourists who frequent the Yucatan must-see’s (like Chichen Itza, which I avoided), there’s a general traveler vibe here of seeking out new experiences and going with the flow. Everyone is super friendly and it’s a great spot to share travel stories and advice over a tasty beverage. Even getting rained out for one day didn’t put a damper on my experience here, though I did end up quite literally damp! Along with nearly all my stuff; even my passport became oddly bent in the high humidity here.
Most impressive ruins: Uxmal
In doing my research for this trip, I knew I wanted to visit the Palenque ruins and knew I absolutely did not want to visit Chichen Itza. Visiting the Uxmal ruins was a completely spontaneous trip (my hostel dorm-mate invited me to join her), and it turned out to be the most impressive ruins for me. The excavation work was exquisite and it was super cool to see all the carvings, markings, and masks mostly intact on the structures. I was not disappointed by Palenque at all, but also super glad I made it to Uxmal! More pictures here.
Exquisite details at Uxmal
Favorite restaurant: El Vegetariano in Tulum
Love, love, love! I love these guys! I first spotted this cafe as I was on the home stretch of lumbering my way from the ADO bus station to my hostel after the miserable 11 hour night bus from Palenque. It was one of my best decisions to make the 5 minute walk over to check it out after checking into my hostel.
The super cute, hippie server had me at “hola”, and her English explanation of the menu was even cuter. By the end of my five days in Tulum, I had four consistently amazing meals from these folks. It was the same two chefs there each time making their magic in the open kitchen. I have no doubt in my mind that they use only the freshest most local ingredients in addition to some good ole fashioned cook-from-the-heart-love to create their hearty and oh so flavorful meals. And yes, it was all vegetarian, and vegan options were available too.
Best meal: Huevos motulenos at El Vegetariano
Best meal of the entire trip, plus with a fresh green juice, made it one of the healthiest and most energizing breakfasts I’ve had of all time. I’m serious.
Eggs and beans on tortillas covered with sauce and topped with avocado
Number of swims in the Caribbean: 4
The low moments:
Okay, every trip has a few low moments, and this was no exception. I only had two distinct this-really-sucks times of my trip.
1. The 11 hour night bus from Palenque to Tulum. Even with my two extra clothing layers, I was freezing due to the blasting air conditioning that the bus drivers don’t turn down no matter what time of day it is. Jerks! Also, there was a big dude sitting next to me, he crossed into my space while trying to get comfortable and was basically snoring in my face for a good chunk of the ride. The seat in front of me was pushed down, squeezing my legs, and I could not get comfortable at all, much less get any sleep. And you call this first class? I shudder at what 3rd class looks like… While this was a crappy ride, it is still not my worst of all time, nope, that award is still held by the night bus from Uyuni to La Paz in Bolivia in 2011. I thought I was going to die on that bus, while this Mexico bus was just very uncomfortable. All about perspective.
And miserable moment #2. Spending about 2 hours on/near the toilet while my body violently rejected my “splurge” meal in Tulum. I had treated myself to a fancy Italian restaurant meal of wine, bruschetta, and pasta after my epic bike ride to the beach. It was the most expensive meal of my trip. And the only one my body rejected. Oh the irony. Did my sensitive stomach have any issues with cheap street food? Nope. Just the fancy meal.
And now for the best part, the highlights, those “wow, I’m just so grateful to be alive and I am so happy right now” moments that I had on this trip:
1. Meeting and hanging out with Sarah of Sarah Somewhere. One of the most courageous and inspiring people I know. And her writing is such a joy to read. Check it out!
2. Feeling my headspace switch from travel anxiety to “travel mode” as I was blasting Michael Franti on my iPod and watching the Yucatan jungle pass by while on the bus from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid
3. Biking to Cenote Samula (outside of Valladolid) with a friendly 30-something-solo-traveler-like-me Canadian dude, having the cenote nearly to ourselves, and then biking via the backroads to get back to Vallalodid. Off the beaten path #1.
4. Exploring the Uxmal ruins before the crowds got there and admiring the view from the top of a Mayan pyramid.
5. Good food, good music, good company at Don Mucho’s in Palenque! Enjoying a meal and beer with a Danish couple while sharing travel stories. Making global connections no matter where we’re “from”.
6. Seeing a giant sea turtle for the first time ever, admiring their calmness from above
7. Finding the most beautiful patch of undeveloped Caribbean beach in the Sian Ka’an reserve by biking past the entire Tulum hotel zone. Off the beaten path #2. Full story to come in the next post! Promise! Stay tuned!
8. Snorkeling in Gran Cenote on my last day… staring at fish and turtles swimming in the rays of light beaming down through the glassy clear freshwater. This picture doesn’t do that scene justice at all. I’m not even sure an underwater camera could have captured it.
Stay tuned for more stories and photo essays to come!