Choosing Where to Visit — Part Three

by Lydia Linton Pontius (May 2015)

We have suggested the Riviera Maya, which let's call that Elementary for vacationers. Lots to do, close to the airport, don't have to learn another language and the beach is always close by. We also looked at the Costa Maya,  a little farther south, more of a hike from the airport and as many refer to it—the way the Riviera Maya used to be; we'll call that Secundaria. Some of you may be looking for Universidad or for a little more adventure in your travels.  Well, you can certainly find that by following the Yucatán Peninsula around all the way to the Gulf Coast or heading west to either the state of Yucatán or Campeche; both are gorgeous states.

The state of Yucatán has some marvelous colonial cities like Valladolid, Izamal and Mérida. And all the smaller towns are similar in that they have the cancha, the ceiba tree and, of course, the church. Many of the churches in these towns were built with the stones from Maya temples. The towns are also vibrant and colorful. The Yucatecan cuisine is wonderful; it is an delicious blend of Maya and Spanish.

In all our travels I feel we barely have seen the tip of the iceberg but with that limited knowledge, let's look at some of the options for those ready to explore.

Valladolid is probably one of the more frequently visited places in the Yucatán. For many traveling from the Riviera Maya to Chichén Itzá, this is a stop along the way. We recommend you make it more than a brief stop. There are some lovely hotels and small resorts here; one of our favorites is El Mesón del Marqués, which was a hacienda now converted to a boutique hotel with a lovely restaurant.

Valladolid is also home to cenotes, museums and great shops. In the center of Valladolid is a square and, especially on weekends, you can see many local women selling local products. Surrounding the square are a number of shops and restaurants and a beautiful church. There are several small museums which can provide much history of the area.

About six blocks or so from the square is the old Convent San Bernardino de Siena. It is open to the public and well worth the walk. Built from stones from the Maya ruins, it is beautiful and the artwork and grounds are lovely. The walk to the convent has some real treasures too, including a tequila museum and chocolate factory where they offer free samples and still make their chocolates by hand!

Other cities worth visiting are Izamal, the "Yellow City," and Mérida, the "White City." Izamal is much smaller but is known for its local artists. Take a tour and visit some who make jewelry, pottery and hammocks. There is also some very good tequila and Xtabentún made in Izamal. You won't miss the city—literally much of it is painted yellow. The monastery in the heart of this city was also built from ruins and there are the remains of several Maya structures, including a pyramid. Pope John Paul visited Izamal in 1993. It also has a night show which is quite enjoyable. There is a lovely Bed and Breakfast there, Hotel Macan ché.

You can wander the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in either direction and find some amazingly pristine spots full of birds and miles of sand. But from Progresso you can only drive east. It is a gorgeous road with the Gulf on one side and natural wetlands on the other all the way to Dzilam de Bravo. You won't find much except for private homes and fishing villages but it is picturesque.

To get to the west Gulf coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, you need to go back toward Mérida, and then west to Celestún or southwest to the city of Campeche. All throughout this vast area you will find many haciendas and even more great Maya ruins. Near Uxmal you may consider staying at The Flycatcher Inn known for its charm and birding.

Once in the state of Campeche, you could also make a complete circle and head south to Calakmul. Hotel Puerta Calakmul is one of my favorite places! There are two large ruins to visit, a few small restaurants, a bat cave, and monkeys and birds galore! On our visit to the Calakmul ruins, we even spotted a jaguar!

From Calakmul you can head east and end up back in Quintana Roo near Chetumal and Laguna Bacalar. A great thing about traveling inland in the Yucatán is the costs are cheaper, so don't be afraid to get off the main highways and travel. We found many small Maya ruins amid the quaintest towns that were fascinating to explore. Don't be surprised if you see pigs crossing the road where you least expect them.

We encourage you to take a trek and then, please, share your stories with us! There isn't enough time for us to find all the hidden gems!