Snapshot of the Week – Tulum

Weekly Lego update number 2, and our little guys are back at some more ruins! They just can’t get enough of those Mayans.

The photo was taken at the Mayan site in Tulum, which, although nowhere near as iconic as Chichen Itza, was pretty damn impressive. Whether it was the insanely blue sea or the lizard mafia which seem to patrol the ruins, we actually enjoyed these ruins slightly more than its impressive pyramid neighbour.

It’s been a pretty damn good week. We bussed it from Valladolid to Cozumel at the start of the week. Although the town itself is an insane tourist trap, the diving was incredible. Three turtles, two nurse sharks and a barracuda – well worth the hordes of cruise ship passengers.

We’ve spent the last few days in Tulum, which is a strange little place. One half of Tulum is like Cancun 2.0 – all beach bars and all-inclusive hotels that line the gorgeous seafront. The other half consists of Tulum town, which is the go-to hippie backpacker destination. We’ve never seen so many damn vegan restaurants. The town is pretty cool though, with tons of cheap (and very good) eats, a decent hostel scene and collectivos (mini taxi-bus things) to take you to an abundance of gorgeous beaches, cenotes and ruins.

The downside of this last week – rain aplenty and Sadie’s subsequent mosquito mauling. We expected tropical weather, but this has taken the piss. It’s rained more on the Yucatan than it has in Yorkshire. Luckily, we’ve had (just about) enough sun to make the most of the spectacular scenery in the area, and to top up our pasty skin somewhat. We’ll be hoping, most likely in vain, for bluer skies as we head south next week into Belize.

 

 

Advertisements

Cozumel: Travel Guide

DCIM100GOPROGOPR2187.

GettingThereGettingAroundAccommodationActivitiesFood&DrinkTips

Cozumel is a little island off the coast of Playa del Carmen, and we went there for one reason and one reason only – the diving. Some of the best dive sites in the Western Hemisphere can be found a stone’s throw off the Cozumel coast. The rest of Cozumel though, was not our typical kind of place. It is not a backpacker’s paradise. It is a stop off for cruise ships and a massive American holiday destination, so much so that everything is priced in US dollars. This renders things very expensive, especially on the seafront. That said, we managed to keep under our pretty meagre budget, and did some sweet diving in the process. Here’s how.

Getting There

Pretty straightforward really. From the ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen there are multiple companies that run ferries to and from the island, on the hour every hour. The slower boat (by about 5 minutes…) costs MXP $135 per person one way, and takes about 40 minutes. The faster one costs MXP $163. A word of advice though – the Caribbean may look smooth as a mill pond in Playa, but once you are off shore it can be pretty choppy. We both felt very sea sick, VERY quickly, so pop some sea sickness pills in advance.

Getting Around

This part is somewhat trickier. The majority of hostels are all located in the town – San Miguel  – along with the ferry port and a wide selection of restaurants, bars and dive shops. The town itself is infinitely walkable and has anything you could possible need and probably don’t want. However, if like us, you Googled ‘Cozumel’ and saw a ton of gorgeous, empty beaches, you may find yourself somewhat disappointed. The beaches are gorgeous, and indeed, very empty, namely because they are all on the opposite side of the island, with nary a bus or collectivo headed that way. If you do want to get your posterior to any beach, you’ll have to flag down one of the many taxi’s and part with a minimum of MXP $200 each way. Budget-friendly those buggers are not. You can rent bikes and scooters, the latter for approx MXP $300 a day, but we weren’t in the mood to content with Mexican drivers.

Accommodation

We stayed at 2Tank Dive Hostel, which is only a 2 minute walk from the ferry port. An A/C dorm bed costs $8pp, but we managed to wiggle a private 3 bed room for the same price. Overall I’d recommend it – the A/C is good, it is clean, cheap, well located and the staff are great. However, it is very basic, doesn’t have a proper kitchen, provide drinking water (something we have found invaluable) and the walls are paper thin. It also doesn’t have a door dividing the reception area/outside world from the dorms – letting mozzies and noise in unhindered. Ear plugs are a must as Woody’s, the bar across the street, provides live evening music until midnight every day.

Activities

Beach & Snorkelling
Sadly, even in the town, there are no public beaches and the only sea access is a rather unattractive empty lot where the locals go to hang out. Luckily, we discovered the “No Name bar” – a little beach bar in the Barracuda Hotel where the cruise ship staff go to unwind on their days off, away from the hordes of tourists (who inevitably make their way to the various resorts down the coast). We didn’t have to pay entry and if you do choose to indulge in a beer or three, the prices were reasonable-ish. The bar has a pool, makeshift beach area and access to the sea, with some fairly decent snorkelling. We spent a very content afternoon there.

Diving

As we said, diving was the reason we went to Cozumel. There are literally hundreds of companies on the island offering various dive packages. We eventually booked our guide with a tourist rep in the town square… this was an error. Firstly they promised us that Sadie would be able to complete her Advanced Open Water, which turned out to be a lie. Secondly, the company we went with (they called themselves “Cozumel Diving Pro” but they don’t appear to be on Google…) were a bit of a cowboy operation. Their boat was too small, equipment too big, they did no buddy checks and the group sizes inappropriately large for the dives we did. To top it off, they didn’t do a debrief after our dives so we were unable to log the dives properly. I can’t recommend a particular company – I would suggest doing some thorough research online before choosing one. We paid US $80 each for two dives, which was fairly reasonable for the island.

On the plus side, the dives themselves were beautiful. We dived Palancar Reef, which while it wasn’t full of life had some stunning coral formations that we swam in between, and Yucab Reef which was teeming with fish, turtles and sharks.

 

Food & Drink

Other than the diving, food was a highlight of Cozumel. There are a plethora of options in San Miguel to suit literally any budget. Our personal favourites were:

  • Lobster Shack on Calle 3 Sur, where the staff were super friendly and full of advice for us, and the prices were pretty good too. A shrimp burrito was US $8, a lobster bowl US $11, and beers US $2.
  • Crazy King Burrito on Calle 4 Norte, where we ate the eponymous Crazy King Burrito consisting of steak and shrimp for MXP $170, and it was (nearly) big enough for the two of us.
  • Parripollo on Avenida Sur, where we got half a chicken, rice, tacos, salsa and pickled cabbage for MXP $55 in total, which to be honest was essentially theft.
  • The Empanadas place on Décima Avenida Norte, which I don’t actually think has a name. Here we got 4 huge empanadas for breakfast for MXP $36, and the owner/chef was nice enough to help us out when we ran into trouble with our exchange rate. She does speak literally no English, mind.
  • We were also recommended the Tamales stand on Avenida Licenciado Benito Juarez, near the church, by some friends, but we can’t speak from experience.

Tips

Cozumel basically has two economies, one in Mexican Pesos and one in US dollars. The vast majority of the time, it is cheaper to pay in Pesos. The dollar rate is there to mug lazy American cruise ship tourists who can’t be bothered to change their cash. The best thing to do though, is check out the dollar to Peso rate when you go and do the maths yourself, then you can pay in whatever is the cheapest currency. Winner.

Secondly, if you want to eat cheap, get away from the seafront. It sounds obvious but you would be surprised at how few tourists you see just a few blocks from the coast. You will find the locals’ places and the costs are a fraction of what you would pay to overlook the sea.

Valladolid: Travel Guide

valladolid

GettingThereGettingAroundAccommodationActivitiesFood&Drink

We only decided to come to Valladolid as a gateway to seeing Chichen Itza. I have a pathological aversion to crowds and, having done a bit of research, learned that the ancient Mayan city has a tendency to be standing room only after a certain time in the morning. Consequently, being 2 hours closer to the ruins than the thousands of tourists at Cancun and Playa del Carmen seemed like an attractive option. However, what we found in Valladolid was much more than proximity to Chichen. It’s an attractive, bustling little colonial town, with enough to see and do to keep you busy for 3 or 4 days easily. Here’s what we learned:

Getting There

Mexico doesn’t really have a train network (well, if it does, nobody told me). Therefore, buses are the best way to get around and thankfully, they are a) plentiful and b) good. The ADO bus network connects most sizeable towns one way or another, and the fares are pretty decent too. If you are super organised you can get your tickets in advance and pay the “compra anticipada,” which is the advanced ticket price available up to a day or two before, and it’s normally about a third cheaper. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Mexican bank account you can’t use the website, so you have to go to the bus station to get your tickets. If you aren’t organised, you can usually just rock up on the day and hope there is some seats left on the bus you fancy.

Regarding Valladolid specifically, there are ADO buses that run from Cancun, Merida and Playa del Carmen (that I know of). We got the one from Cancun, it took about 2 hours and cost MXP$174 each (about £8.50).

There are other bus companies available – Oriente is one – which are somewhat slower due to stopping to pick people up on the way. We took one of these to Chichen and back. Because of this they are somewhat cheaper and they do a job, but I’d recommend the ADO ones if time is of the essence, especially if you have onward travel booked.

Getting Around

Valladolid itself isn’t particularly large. We found everything we needed was within walking distance, even in the blistering heat. A few people we met at our hostel had decided to head out of town a bit and had rented bikes – given the state of Mexican roads and driving we elected to give this a miss, but we were assured it was quite safe. Lastly, there are loads of taxis in the town centre near the bus station which can be hailed easily.

Accommodation

We stayed at Hostel Candelaria. It was conveniently located about 5 minutes’ walk from the bus station, in a lovely little square with a few cafes. It had decent free wifi, a nice breakfast included, helpful, English-speaking staff, a lovely garden and a well-equipped outdoor kitchen and eating area. My only gripe was a lack of air conditioning, which was unfortunate but kind of inevitable at the price. Would definitely recommend.

Activities

Given the whole reason we initially chose to visit Valladolid was to go to Chichen, I’ll give it its own guide. However it does the town a disservice to mark its highlight as its immediacy to somewhere else. Highlights in the town itself are:

  • Casa de los Venados – A 17th Century colonial mansion, converted by its American owners into something of a shrine to contemporary Mexican folk art. The house, which also doubles as an occasional boutique hotel, offers guided tours (in English as well as Spanish) around the owners’ private collection of over 2000 pieces of Mexican art. The tour even takes you into the living quarters of the couple who own the house where we were fortunate enough to meet John, one half of them. He explained to us that all the proceeds of the house go towards charities aimed at improving the health and quality of life of local people. Entry is by donation only, but the recommended amount is MXP $80 (less than £4), which is absolutely worth it.
  • Parque del Centro – Colonialism has a lot to answer for, but it doesn’t half leave behind some pretty places. This park in the middle of town (name’s a bit of a giveaway) is lined with trees, providing some much needed shade in the middle of the day, and is a nice place to chill with an ice cream and watch the world go by. It’s also right next to the Iglesia de San Servacio, an incredibly pretty 16th century Spanish church.
  • Cenotes – As with so much of the Yucatan peninsula, the area around Valladolid is dotted with cenotes, limestone sinkholes down to the water table, perfect for swimming. There are at least 5 within a 7km radius of the town centre – Zaci, Suytun, San Lorenzo Oxman, Dzitnup and Samula. Each offers something slightly different, some are underground, some exposed. We went to Zaci because it was so near, actually in the town itself, and it only cost MXP $30 for as long as we wanted. Zaci is up to 100m deep in places so it’s great for leaping into – make sure you watch someone do it first before you decide to throw yourself off a high ledge though, you can’t see very far down into the dark.

 

Food & Drink

We didn’t find gastronomy high on Valladolid’s list of attractions. That’s not to say we didn’t have nice food, just that our budget tends to take us to more casual (fine, cheap) establishments. My personal highlights were Tamales, a local speciality, at Las Palapita de los Tamales on the corner of Calles 42 and 33, and lunch at Loncheria el Amigo Casiano. The latter was a Trip Advisor recommendation but didn’t fill us with hope when we saw it – it is a tiny cafeteria with a little cart out the front under a red awning. The staff speak no English but we got by with pointing, and were so glad we did. We ordered some fried corn tacos with spicy chicken filling and they were the best tacos I’ve ever eaten, and for MXP $10 (50p!) each. Find it on Calle 37, between Calles 38 and 40.

Snapshot of the Week – Chichen Itza

This is the first of our weekly Lego updates. In the little known (read “packed with tourists”) Mayan city of Chichen Itza. A bit out of the way, a bit crowded, a bit expensive and absolutely, jaw dropping-ly incredible.

We’ve been in Mexico for 4 days and our life in England already feels like a lifetime ago. Admittedly we haven’t exactly stretched ourselves – the heat does that to you. That said, in 96 short hours, we’ve been to a night market, toured a Mexican folk art gallery, swam in a cenote and visited one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Plus we even squeezed in time for a much-needed chill by the pool in Cancun, not to mention eating our weight in tacos.

Essentially, this travelling lark seems like a pretty good choice. We’re four days in to a three year trip. It won’t always be this good or this easy, but it’s nice to feel like we’ve made a good decision for a change. Dare I say it… I think we might be… happy?