My Birthday Trip to the Yucatan – Day 1

By Mike Pontius (December 2011)
Photos are clickable for larger sizes.

Being married to the publisher of affords me the opportunity to hear all about the great places to stay in the Yucatán. Recently my wife has described at length her trip to Calakmul, staying with old friends in Xcalak, and seeing the incredible changes that have swept the Mahahual area in the 10 years since we'd been there together. But the sad thing is that I don't get to join her most of the time.

That changed this past November. For my 60th birthday, she invited me, our son and his girlfriend to follow in a few of her footsteps through the Riviera and Costa Maya.

After arriving in Cancún on an early morning flight from Charlotte (we live in Charleston, S.C.) we were met at the airport by Lydia, who had other reasons (she has it rough) to have already spent several days in Akumal, and we set off in search of a larger rental car. That accomplished, we headed south. First stop, Akumal, was to have a welcome drink at Lol-Ha and show Matt and Lisa our (well, Lydia's mostly) home away from home. It was great to be back, but what made this first stop so great was to see the look in the kids' eyes. Matt had heard us talk about the Yucatán for a dozen or more years but other than one trip to Cancún, he hadn't been.

Tulúm Beach

After a beer and a walk around Akumal Centro, we headed south for Tulúm Beach. Our mission this time was to show the kids what we call the most beautiful big beach in the world. On her last trip Lydia had spent a night at Cabañas Tulum, a couple of miles down the beach road from Zama's. What a spot!

After a walk up the beach to show off the soft pink sand and to give Matt and Lisa a sense of just how long and uninterrupted this section of Tulúm Beach is, we settled at the bar at El Bistro at Ziggy's Beach. Mexican beer never tastes better than on your first day back after a long absence. Ziggy's Beach is spectacular and I hope to get a chance to stay there in the near future, but for this trip we had other objectives.

On the way out, we stopped at Zama's, because Matt had heard so much about it from friends. To our amazement, the place was virtually deserted. Granted, early November is not the peak of high season, but still... Zama's? Once we got to the water we discovered why. The air was absolutely still and stifling. So after a quick climb on the rocks, we were off again.

We went up the road as far as the beach road gate to the ruins. There we discovered the public beach. The road down to the water is very rutted, but there's a great little food and drink shack on the beach—the owner/manager apparently lives in an old school bus in the sandy parking lot. We took a quick dip, saw the ruins from the water, then had another beer and a quick bite. If you find yourself on the beach road and don't want to spring for the more expensive fare at one of the resorts, try the little public beach. Just hang a right before the road ends at the ruins' gate.

La Selva Mariposa

Ever since Lydia and I have been involved with we've relied on Mari Pintkowski (AKA Moe) to contribute her exceedingly well-written and informative articles about the Tulúm area and what it's like to live in the Yucatán. Well, Mari and her husband, Lou, know a thing or two about the area. They own and operate La Selva Mariposa, an off-the-beaten-path, bed and breakfast in the jungle between Tulúm and Cobá. And our plan called for spending our first night with them. To get there, you turn right just as you're entering the tiny pueblo of Macario Gomez, about 20 minutes or so down the Cobá road.

Now I've seen pictures of the place and heard Lydia wax eloquent about it. But as we drove up the little road into the jungle and entered through the gate, there was magic in the air. This place is unlike any most of us will ever see. It's carved, and I do mean carved, out of a two-acre swath of jungle. It's made up of several small buildings, one slightly larger and taller, perfectly maintained paths, water courses, waterfalls and tucked away little pools. There are fruit trees of all varieties. Palms. And I don't know how many other varieties of trees and plants. (Lou would be disappointed that I don't recall this, because his tour is very thorough and informative.)

Upon arrival, after first being welcomed by the dogs, Moe showed us to our bungalows. Matt and Lisa were on one side of the main house and we were in a separate building on the other side. They had access to the rooftop patio and lookout station above the patio. Our duplex had a small pool with a waterfall. The rooms themselves appeared to be carved in place. I know I'm repeating myself with the word "carved," but that's the feel you get. La Selva Mariposa looks as if it had been shaped rather than built, sculpted. The exteriors, the interiors and even the landscaping all blended so beautifully that you might imagine a Japanese garden laid out in the middle of the Yucatán jungle.

After settling in and walking around the property—oh, and enjoying the fully enclosed but open-to-the-sky shower—we walked down to the main road for a great dinner at the restaurant immediately across the street. I don't remember what I ordered (I was just getting ready to turn 60, remember), but I do recall liking it very much. As did we all, with each of our orders.

That night we slept perfectly. How could we not? Exhausted from the day's travels, in womb-like jungle environs and having settled into one of the most comfortable beds I've every enjoyed, sleep came instantly and deeply.

In the morning, Lydia and I wandered back into Macario Gomez. The little village was bustling with a Sunday morning market. A butcher was hacking at a side of beef and Maya women were stocking up on fruits and vegetables. Arriving back at the hotel, we were served a spectacular breakfast of fruit, granola, and an egg dish prepared by our hosts, served in the dining palapa. We shared the table with a French couple who spoke little English but were obviously as impressed as we with La Selva Mariposa.

The plan that Sunday was to head all the way down to the little fishing village of Xcalak on the Belize border. But first we asked Lou to give us all a tour of the property. This a must-do on your first visit. Lou not only imparts information about the native vegetation, but he also tells you the story of how this couple from Vail, Colorado happened to have found themselves as innkeepers in the Maya jungle. It's a story worth hearing and, if your memory is better than mine, worth repeating.

Thanks, Moe and Lou. We will return!

La Selva Mariposa  Matt Pontius