Originally posted by me in 2014 on travelblog.org
It has been almost two years since I first embarked on the trip which took me from the US to Colombia and, finally, to Mexico. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that, during the four and a half months in which I was away, I woke up happy every day.
For various reasons, I never finished the final blog entry, which chronicled my last two weeks in Mexico.
In that time, I travelled to Valladolid, Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres. My flight home on December 18th 2012 left from Cancún, a place which I managed to avoid pretty well. Except for the extortionate taxi journey from the ferry dock to the airport, after I reluctantly left the gorgeous island which was my home for my final few days in a country which I had fallen utterly and irrevocably in love with.
After returning to England, I had good intentions of finally finishing off this blog post and publishing it. A good family friend of mine had told me (in his usual frank way!) that I had better hurry up and get the blog completed and posted. My camera had pretty much given up on me by the end of the trip, which meant that I didn’t have many photos to accompany the blog post. Of course, upon returning (and particularly as it was Christmas time) things were pretty hectic, so I suppose there were a number of reasons (read: excuses) for not getting around to writing this. Mostly though, I guess sometimes you just don’t want to have to say goodbye.
It’s finally written now, and despite the time lag, I hope that I have managed to do justice to those last two weeks in Mexico. I would like to dedicate this to that good family friend of mine who had prompted me to write this; I wish I’d done it sooner.
I spent a few days in Valladolid, a charming and peaceful little town in Yucatán, which is lovely in its own right but is probably most attractive for its location; about halfway between Merida and Cancun, it is a convenient base for exploring nearby archaeological sites such as Ek Balam and Chichen Itza.
I went to Ek Balam with someone I’d met at the hostel, and we enjoyed wandering around what was a slightly more tranquil site, but was particularly notable for the cenote (sinkhole) a short walk away from the ruins, which was inhabited by docile little black fish and proved a relaxing retreat from the sun. (Tip for travellers: remember to pack a bikini if you don’t want to swim in your underwear!)
My memory of the exact timeline in these last two weeks is failing me somewhat, but I also visited Chichen Itza, the largest Maya site in the Yucatán, and the best known. Despite the absurd number of tourists that flock there, it is still immensely enjoyable (indeed, immense is an adjective which aptly describes the site).
In my opinion, you are better off avoiding the expensive tourist packages and heading there yourself so that you can wander around at your own pace instead of being herded around and barked at by a tour guide. Try to get there early, because most tour groups don’t get there until mid- or late- morning.
After Valladolid I went to Tulum, a pretty dreadful town if I’m being honest as it is over-run with tourists and the town itself is a dreary and dusty place. However, I did meet a lovely couple at the hostel I was staying at (The Weary Traveller – not recommended for any ‘weary’ travellers hoping to get a decent night’s sleep but good for meeting people – and cockroaches), with whom I visited the archaeological ruins of Tulum.
The site is along the coast, which serves to further strengthen its draw and beauty. After wandering around the ruins, you can head on to the white sands of the adjacent beach.
During my time in Mexico I had already seen a number of archaeological sites which had once belonged to ancient civilizations, and so I was slightly unsure about whether to go to Cobá or not. However, as so many people had recommended it to me, and indeed a couple that I’d met in Valladolid had shown me some photos from the place, in the end I decided that I didn’t want to miss it. I was pleased to find that, despite the hordes of people that were there, because the site was so large it was easy to lose the crowds.
The walks between the structures were long, but the area was full of tall thin trees which created an overheard canopy and thus provided some much-needed shade from the fierce sun. Much of the area still has not been excavated, and even those structures which have were often covered by trees and shrubs that pushed out from between the stones, giving the place a much older and more weathered feel.
I headed to Playa del Carmen, despite my reservations that it may just be another boring tourist-ridden town catering essentially to English-speaking tourists looking to sunbathe and drink.
Luckily, I found a great little hostel called Casa del Shiva which is set back from the main drag. The owners are friendly, the little pool is great, and it’s easy to take a cheap collectivo to the beach.
Playa del Carmen is popular essentially for its lovely beaches, so I won’t spend too much time stating the obvious: yes, the beach is pleasant and is what you would expect in this gorgeous little part of the world. If you’re a ‘beach person’, I’m sure you could be happy spending a few days here. For me, a couple of days was sufficient.
My flight home was looming, and I knew I wanted to avoid Cancún, so I took the advice of a number of fellow travellers I’d met and headed to Isla Mujeres.
I spent most of my days in the following way: going to the island’s best beach (Playa Norte) in the morning, getting lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes around the town, swimming and relaxing by the hotel’s swimming pool in the afternoon, and going for a walk along the coast in the evenings.
The beach is truly beautiful; the sort of picture-perfect Caribbean beach that you see in holiday brochures, with fine white sand and a deep blue sea that turns turquoise under the hot Carribean sun.
Of course, such an incredible beach comes with a price. Dotted along the narrow strip of sand are massage parlours, restaurants and beach chairs affiliated with one fancy hotel or another. Despite this, the beach was never overcrowded. In fact, even on the weekend there were relatively few people around. Thus it was easy to find a quiet and clear bit of sand to spread out my beach towel and sunbathe.
However, as peaceful and beautiful as it was, I find it hard to simply sunbathe for long periods of time, so most of my time was spent with my nose in one of the two books I was reading at that time: either Lord of the Rings or A Brief History of Time. (Both are awesome, although the former was certainly an easier read, and thus more fitting to the chilled-out island vibe!)
As much as I loved the beach, however, the views I enjoyed during my evening strolls along the coast which stretched out south from Playa Norte were perhaps even more stunning.
Here the sea was choppier, as it crashed and sprayed up against the rocks that jutted out into the water. A low wall runs along the coast, with small pillars at frequent intervals painted in the colours of one of the many countries of the Americas. The wall was quite wide, so it provided a great place to sit and watch the waves come crashing in, and the blue sea which stretched out beyond into the horizon. I tended to time my walks with the sunset, which painted the sky above a beautiful shade of pink.
All-in-all, the time I spent in Isla Mujeres was the perfect end to an incredible trip. It’s taken over 18 months to try and write this, and time has made it no easier to try an aptly sum up either the trip itself, or Mexico in particular.
Having had such a fantastic time in the US and in Colombia, I had high expectations of Mexico. Hopefully the blogs that I wrote whilst I was there, and this blog which I now write after a long period of reflection, will illustrate my love and respect for this country.
To try and summarise, though, I will just say that the people, the history, the culture and the landscapes which greet visitors who make their way to Mexico all combine to make it a truly incredible and beautiful country.
My deepest thanks to all those I met on the way, and to those who followed my blogs during the trip. Here’s to many more adventures in the future!
Laura P x
To see the original post on my travelblog.org site, click here.