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Home > Destinations > Mexico > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Mexico - Trip Reports

Yucatan - Merida, Uxmal, Celestun

Earlier this month, my wife, 16 y.o. son and I took a short trip to the Yucatan. We booked a round trip on Continental nonstop from Houston to Merida for ~US$450 p.p., r/t.

We'd reserved a room at the Gran Hotel, right on the plaza Hidalgo, and about a block from the zocalo. We arrived late on a Saturday night. The room had no windows and the A/C was loud, but for the second night we requested and were given a much nicer room (#9) overlooking the plaza. This hotel was is really wonderful - elegant interior spaces with marble and chandeliers, high ceilings, quiet, well-located, plenty of cold filtered water and ice. On the way out of the country at the end of the week, we got another nice room, #13 a "triple" for 760 pesos . The doubles (two beds) were 610. (Pesos were 10.83 / US$ via an ATM.)

Sunday in Merida is quite an experience. The historic center's streets are blocked off and are taken over by pedestrians, bicycle taxis, horse-drawn calesas, and cafes, some with live music. In the zocalo and in plaza Hidalgo there were folkloric shows all afternoon. By night there was literally dancing in the streets. Besides enjoying all of this, we visited the market and bought your narrator a "sombrero jipi" (panama hat) -- bien fino, it elicited compliments from yucatecanos for the rest of the week. Also got a couple guayaberas.

We visited a free art museum in the afternoon, and in the evening, had dinner at a wonderful Lebanese restaurant, Alberto's Continental Patio (ordered an alambra, pollo pibil and, um, a club sandwich).

Monday, using info from a visit to the tourist office, we took a taxi to the CAME bus station and bought tix (29 pesos pp) for the 2nd class bus to Uxmal (there was no 1st class). The trip was ~2 hours. Uxmal is, of course, the site of a Mayan ruin, but there is no town there, hence prices are very high. We had booked a room at the Hacienda Uxmal at $US 120 per night. This is a beautiful hotel -- lush tropical grounds w/ boganvillas and bird-of-paradise, oleander, periwinkle, etc. Lots of birds and exotic bird calls. Swimming pool and outdoor bar/restaurant. But did I say expensive? Particularly aggravating is the 25 peso charge for a liter of purified water - and very little alternative! If you ever do stay at Uxmal, bring your own water, and maybe some food too, as meals start at ~100 pesos for some tacos or a club sandwich.

Our first view of the ruins was at night, at the infamous "sound and light" show. It was sort of silly, but really should not be missed (what else are you going to do on a Tuesday night in Uxmal?). Cha!... Cha!... Cha!

In the morning we returned. Entrance was 88 pesos p.p (the night before was ~30 pesos). We hired an English speaking guide at the regulated price of 350 pesos. I really can't do the ruins justice, so I won't try to describe it, but we were truly awed.

In the afternoon,we returned to the "hacienda" and swam to cool off. We had as our goal next to get a bus back to Merida and take another bus to Celestun. There was some confusion about when a bus would pass (remember, no town here), and the hotel staff was not too helpful. I think they're mostly used to people w/ rented cars. At any rate, at 2:30pm we were by the side of the road, waiting for a rumored bus. After 20 minutes, a van stopped that was transporting some tourists back to Merida. The driver offered us a ride to our bus station in Merida for 200 pesos for all 3 of us. We took the ride.

We got another 2nd class bus to Celestun. This stopped about 20 times before we left town, and then another 20 times before we got to Celestun, 2 1/2 hours later. On the ride we had a nasty incident -- since we couldn't fit our bags in the overhead shelf, we stowed them below in the bus cargo compartment. At some point, somebody stowed some fish in water or on ice in the same compartment, and it spilled, and one of our bags reeked strongly of fish for the rest of the week.

Arrived at Celestun after dark. The hotel we had chosen from the guide book was full, so we had to do some searching. All of the hotels in town were pretty grungy (though cheap), except for one about 8 blocks from the busy center of town. Out on the way out of town was the Playa Flamenco. Clean, but with small, sparse rooms. Had a swimming pool and patio overlooking the beach. 400 pesos / night. The thing we liked the least was the long walk back to the plaza and to any restaurant or store.

Celestun is a really nice, old fashioned Mexican beach-town. A lot of cheap restaurants on the beach. A plaza that comes alive in the evening, with foosball, and a very low-key kind of permanent fiesta - carts selling hot dogs, something like funnel cake, a trampoline, and an archade with a BB gun shooting gallery and darts-and-balloons. My wife tried her luck on these, but ended up giving her final 2 darts to two boys -- they threw them with such gusto!

In the daytime, the town is quiet and sleepy, with bicycle taxis and push carts selling helados and another selling vegtables and fruits (believe me, we bought some stuff from her!). Most people on the street will greet you and it seemed very safe.

On our second day, we took a tour out into the "eco-park" (an estuary) in a boat -- 150 pesos pp. At one point, the wife saw a line of pink in the distance on the water's surface -- flamingos! The boat was able to get ~50 feet from the flock and we watched for about 15 minutes. Later, we found a larger flock and we saw some fly -- they have black tips on their wings and their beaks. I saw an "aguila pescador" (fisher eagle? -- I don't know the right english name), dive and catch a fish, and fly away with the fish in its talons.

That night we ate some very good pizza at a friendly place called El Lobo, connected to a hostel. The next morning, we took a bus back to Merida.

Wow, this is a long report for only 6 days. Thanks for reading this far.

Here are some final impressions of this part of the Yucatan. 1) It's not cheap -- nice restaurants in Merida were almost as expensive as back in the states, but I'm sure we could have economized by choosing more carefully or eating in the market. 2) It is Hot. About 90 degrees F each afternoon, and very few public places had A/C -- the coast was cooler, though. 3) Though my wife and I both speak pretty good (but not fluent) Spanish, I was struck by how many people working with in restaurants and hotels spoke pretty good English --one should not hestitate to come here just because one does not speak Spanish.

Finally, Yucatecans are very friendly people. We were always treated nicely, and had some very nice conversations and interactions. On our last day, a man named Don Jose talked with us in the park, complimented us on our souvenirs, and talked us into going back to the market to get a "rebozo de Santa Maria" (a fine type of shawl). He was literally singing the praises of these rebozos, and told a charming story about how he bought one for his wife as a wedding present 30 yrs ago, etc, etc.

Thanks to Mike for this trip report ...
March 2004

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