by Lydia Linton Pontius
photos: Alexandra Bradley
videos: Lydia Linton Pontius (many links are to videos)
I have been traveling to Mexico since a family trip in 1998 took me to Cancún and Xel-Ha. Actually my first trip to Mexico was in 1973 to Mexico City for several months, but that is a lifetime ago and another story. I go to Mexico at least once a year, sometimes up to 3 trips, and I stay 10 days to three weeks. This was the first year that, when I was getting ready to go, everyone came to tell me to "Be careful," "Take care," "Come home safe." I found this an interesting sign of the times and of the influence of our media.
I traveled alone to Cancún, which I often do. When I arrived I rented a car and drove to Puerto Aventuras, where I met friends and clients and had a wonderful time. Day two, I headed to Akumal, which is always on my trip schedules. I attended a week-long "Women In Wellness Retreat" and, I assure you, the scariest thing that happened was trying to belly dance. We did water fitness, kayaking, snorkeling, salsa dancing, yoga, feel-good sessions and more, all completely with women and totally safe. (Click on any link to watch videos.)
After 10 days in Akumal, my friend and co-worker Alex and I headed off on a week-long adventure. Yes, two women, in a rented car, headed south and inland. Let me assure you the only trouble I found was due to my own klutziness, and everyone who knows me, knows it is what happens anywhere I am. So, yes, I did have a scary moment when I fell off a pier and into a sandy, seagrass bay. My foot was swollen and it limited the amount of walking I could do, but it stopped me from nothing.
Alex and I headed south, making a stop in Tulúm for ice, snacks, drinks, cash and one last peek in at Organicamente and MexicArte, two shops side by side which are must-sees in Tulúm. Next stop was lunch at Muyil. The Restaurant Chunyaxche is a great place right on the side of the road with real local cuisine at incredibly reasonable prices.
I was excited to be heading to Mahahual. It had been 10 years since my last visit and now with the cruise ship area, I was expecting real changes. Read City of Two Tales to learn more about our time in Mahahual. We spent the night at the Balamku Inn (see review) which is a delightful 10-room boutique resort just south of Mahahual. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast, photographing, and kayaking just off shore. Two cruise ships had arrived and I was dying to see what effects they had on the sleepy town. We took off and the town was abuzz, but that was only half the surprise. We followed the yellow taxis north and drove past the new pueblo which houses the new workers and on to near the actual pier. Where were we? Tijuana? There were donkeys and monkeys to have your photos taken with, Mexican blankets, and big sombreros galore. Holy cow was that a Hard Rock Cafe? Stop, I have a Christmas gift to buy, which was the only reason, by the way, I would go to a Hard Rock Cafe on the Costa Maya.
Returning to Mahahual to the Malecon, we strolled down it looking for the best place to eat. Street vendors called and tried to lure us in as we walked by; this was NOT the sleepy, but grown-up, fishing town we saw yesterday. We finally stopped at a restaurant towards the end of the Malecon. I must say I cannot recommend Paraiso Restaurante and I cannot recommend eating at a place that has tables on the beach but no restaurant in sight. Okay, so we don't make good choices all the time.
Lunch was over and we were ready to hit the road. Next stop was Xcalak, another place that I had not visited in 10 years. On the way we passed though the same military checkpoint we had gone through on the way from Limones to Mahahual. The soldiers couldn't have been nicer. Our bumper had come loose and these gentlemen motioned us to pull over, and crawled under the car and fixed it for us. "Gracias, Buenos Días" and off we went.
We went directly to Casa Carolina and checked in. It was great to see Bob and Caroline again. Look for a review on this great place in upcoming issues. We got settled into our rooms, which really were lovely efficiency studio apartments with balconies or decks. I should add that both Casa Carolina and Balamku are eco-friendly resorts.
Casa Carolina has a great rooftop for early morning birdwatching or sunset cocktails, or if you love to fry, go ahead and sunbathe up there. They have added a screened-in palapa with a full bar, where breakfast is served in the mornings.
Caroline joined us for dinner at Toby's. You will also read in upcoming issues about this ambitious, local young man. We had a great fresh fish dinner. They were out of flan, but Toby promised to have some made for us the next day. His sister is a nail technician and will give manicures and pedicures at your hotel room, a nice option while you are relaxing in this wonderful place.
Next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn for more photography, breakfast, and kayaking. Time passed too quickly and soon it was time to head out, but not before we had lunch and the promised flan at Toby's, with our friend Paula. Sadly, we left Xcalak, promising to return sooner than last time.
On to Bacalar. Ten years ago I had stopped for lunch at this intriguing place, Hotel Laguna Bacalar. I was captivated by it and it has always made me wonder what was the story behind it. In upcoming issues, you will learn this story, and it is better than any we could have made up.
I had been back to Bacalar, with VIDAS, more recently than 10 years ago. It is an interesting place with a large population from the U.S., Canada and Germany. The lake is known for its seven colors of blue, as well as a lovely Cenote Azul right next to it, at the very southern end. The lagoon is very long and the development is contained to one side. There are people offering kayaking trips around the lake that include camping for a week. There is something very alluring about this area.
The next afternoon we were off for the farthest point in our adventure, the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. We headed south from Bacalar and, just before Chetumal, we turned west and drove on the newly reconstructed road to the state of Campeche. Heading south from Akumal, the flora changes to fruit trees and pines and, as you turn west, the flat of the coast gives way to hills and valleys. The rivers are no longer hidden in the karst terrain of the coast and the vista is magnificent.
We stopped briefly for lunch in Xpujil; prices there were unbelievable. You can get a full meal of roasted chicken and all the fixings for just a few dollars. We stopped at the market and found their prices equally good. We stocked up and, ready to move on, we headed to Calakmul.
At the entrance of the road that takes you into the biosphere to the Calakmul ruins, just to the left, is a hidden treasure. Hotel Puerta Calakmul has 15 palapa bungalows nestled in this little piece of jungle heaven, with sac-be footpaths leading through the property and to the swimming pool. You feel like you are miles away from civilization. You will also learn much more about this portion of our adventure and this resort in upcoming issues. The highlights of this part of our trip were birding, seeing spider and howler monkeys, and even a jaguar walking down the road in front of us. Wildlife here is as different as it can possibly be from wildlife in Cancún. At night don't be surprised if you hear the howler monkeys deep in the jungle and you will wake to a myriad of birds.
Two nights in Calakmul were just not enough. We will be back to explore this area in more detail. Our time was up and we needed to start heading back to our home base of Akumal, with two more stops on the way in Tulúm.
It was a very long driving day from Calakmul to Tulúm. We stopped in Bacalar to visit Villas Ecotucan, a small but lovely eco-resort. Its vegetation was nearly wiped out during Hurricane Dean in 2007 but is growing back well. We met Jacqueline who, along with her husband, Gunnar, runs kayak and outrigger canoe camping trips along the lake. We had lunch a little farther north at Laguna Azul, a campground with some cabanas, palapas, RV sites and a restaurant, on the very north end of the lake.
By the time we made it to Cabañas Tulum it was dark. We were weary and our host was extremely welcoming. They grabbed our bags, handed us welcome cocktails, and suggested relaxing before dinner. It was like landing in the lap of luxury. The hotel was only partially open at the time; several units between ours and the restaurant were still being renovated. The rooms were simple and clean, located directly on the beach. What set this property above was the staff.
After sipping our cocktails on our beachfront porch and showering, we headed for dinner. Their restaurant is El Bistro, on Ziggy Beach, in Tulúm. You can choose to sit under a large palapa in the main dining room, under the stars on the beach, or near the beachfront bar. We chose the stars. Dinner was superb and the service was stellar, attentive but not overdone. You will hear more about Cabañas Tulum and El Bistro in upcoming episodes.
The next day we spent the morning enjoying Tulúm beach, visiting with friends, and enjoying a leisurely brunch at El Bistro before heading to Om Tulum Hotel. Om is located a little farther south on the Tulúm Beach Road. It is a small property that utilizes every inch and creates a Zen-like feel. With the emphasis on Indian decor, complete with hookahs on the tables in the restaurant, billowing deep-colored curtains flowing in the breeze, and several Buddhist statues and gardens, it is a tranquil setting.
I checked into my room which was one of the most gorgeous palapa rooms, with a lovely second story balcony and view of the beach. Om is also a very eco-friendly property and they turn off their generators during the late evening and pre-dawn hours. You will learn more about this property in upcoming issues.
Stay tuned as we bring you more stories and videos of our adventure. And remember, Sac-Be welcomes contributing writers. If you have stories to share, please feel free to contact us. We encourage the first-hand approach to news of the area! And Sac-Be is going back to its primary roots—sharing stories and information about the entire area that was once covered by the original sac-beob (white roads) of the Maya civilization.