By , August 10, 2011 1:34 pm
When Mike and I originally booked our flights to Cancun, we thought we would land, hop on a bus to Guatemala, and that would be it for Mexico.  Mexico was never really on our radar... it's a good thing we decided to stay here a while, because we would have missed out on some great culture and history (not to mention the beaches).

Mexico Summary:

Length of Stay:  22 days Average  Cost per Day for Two People (excluding transportation to Mexico):  $51.80 CAD Cities Visited:  6 Distance Traveled:  1735 km in 13 automobiles and 4 boats Days Sick:  9 for Ashley, 0 for Mike Number of Items Lost:  2 (Ashley's hat and Mike's water bottle) Biggest Tourist Traps:  Isla Mujeres (especially La Tortugranja), Parador Gastronomico de Cockteleros in Campeche Exchange Rate:  $1 CAD = 12 MXN (Mexican pesos)

Our Route:

Cancun (Isla Mujeres) - Isla Holbox - Valladolid (Coba, Chichen Itza) - Merida (Uxmal, Kabah) - Campeche (Edzna) - Palenque

Mexico Route

Highlights:

  • Isla Holbox, without a doubt.  We nearly looked for jobs  just to stay on this  little piece of paradise.
  • Whale Shark tour - to be honest, I hadn't even heard of whale sharks before I got to Cancun.  But this experience was worth the hefty price tag.  The whale sharks were massive and swimming along beside them was an incredible feeling.
  • Mayan Ruins - especially Chichen Itza, Edzna, and Palenque
  • Fresh corn tortillas - there's nothing quite like buying a steaming stack of corn tortillas from a tortilleria for 3 pesos
  • Discovering the parks/plazas in the cities - these were always the first thing we sought out.  They had the best street food and we could often find free music, dancing, or other entertainment here.
  • Mexican pastries for breakfast... we never had the same one twice, and they were all delicious!
  • Mexican Tang... a.k.a. Zuko.  This was a cheap way to flavour some of the water we had to stay hydrated with.  There were a billion different fruit flavours and they all tasted like the real fruit (not an artificial fruit drink knockoff like we have in Canada).

Lowlights:

  • 8 days straight of Montezuma's Revenge (a.k.a. traveler's diarrhea) for Ashley
  • The hour long second class bus ride to Coba that Ashley had to stand for since all the seats were full. 
It was almost worth standing to hear a fellow passenger ask why I was standing when my husband was sitting... good question.
  • The heat and humidity... it's just a little too much at times
  • Wandering around for an hour and a half at 8:00 a.m. in Campeche looking for a colectivo to Edzna.  We stopped and asked directions every 5 minutes or so, but were always pointed in different directions.  Eventually, we found out that they don't run until 11:00 on Sundays and were lucky enough to find a shoe shiner that for 10 pesos gladly led us to the super secret back street location.
  • Street vendors.  They come to you while you are walking, eating, reading... and their sales pitches are relentless.
  • Mosquitoes.  Just about everywhere we were, there were mosquitoes.  And not just a few.  Deet hardly seems to deter them sometimes and heaven forbid you leave an arm hanging out of the sheet while you're sleeping!

Surprises:

  • For two people that never nap, we sure have grown to love them.  In fact, we mastered the art of the siesta in Mexico.  It's a great way to get out of the heat from about 12 - 3, and keeps you going late at night since most places don't get lively until about 9:00 pm.
  • Parks are a great place for a family to take children to play after dark.  In Canada we would already have our kids in bed, and we'd be afraid of a mugging in a park after dark. Not so in Mexico.
  • The pork store, chicken store, fish store, and beef store are all separate stores.
  • Apparently we have turned into morning people.  Take away the jobs and the alarm clocks, and we start getting up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. on our own.
  • You have to throw your toilet paper in the garbage, not the toilet... this one took some getting used to.
  • Mexican Coca Cola is actually quite good... much better than what we're used to!  Apparently it's made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup like the stuff at home.

Lessons Learned:

  • It's possible for two people to share every meal, snack, and drink... and for only one of them to get sick from it.
  • We probably should have taken the Spanish CDs more seriously before we left... a little more Spanish would go a long way.
  • Unless you're worried about availability, don't book more than one night at a hostel until you've stayed there.  We thought the hostel in Campeche that was located in a mansion from the 1500's would have tons of character... it actually had tons of dirt, cockroaches, no drinking water, no door on the dorm, and some sort of large Mexican boy band staying there.  I mention the boy band because they would pull out their guitars about the time we went to bed and sing the same song over and over again into the wee hours of the morning.
  • If someone's being friendly, watch for the sales pitch.  We got caught by this our first night in Merida.  A man came up to us and asked where we're from and how long we've been traveling.  He started telling us the "real" history of Merida and the Spanish conquistadors.  Before we knew it, we were in a store looking at jewelry, carvings, and hammocks.  The merchandise was some of the nicest we've seen and we still felt like we had seen something special until we went back to our hostel and met a group of travelers that had fallen for the same ploy the night before.

Mexican Journal

Cancun - 3 Nights Cancun was our starting point. After an interesting first evening that included hiding out from masked military guys with guns while we waited for our couchsurfing host to arrive at his home, we spent two days checking out the beaches at Isla Mujeres and in the hotel zone. We found Isla Mujeres had nice beaches, but was full of drunk 20 year olds racing golf carts down the streets. The hotel strip kind of reminded us of a beachy vegas. The vendors were pushy, but the beaches themselves were beautiful. Isla Holbox - 5 Nights We had heard about Isla Holbox from a guy we met on the airport shuttle in Cancun. Holbox is a small town on the end of the island, with white sand beaches and white sand streets. It didn't feel super touristy, though there were a lot of tourists about. The culture was dominated by locals, and everything felt very laid back. We decided to relax there for a while we figured out some sort of plan of where to go next. We met Morgan and Andy at the bus station in Cancun, where we shared our mutual ATM woes. They convinced us that we HAD to go swimming with the whale sharks... so we did! The experience was unforgettable and we're glad we splurged on it. Tribu hostel was an amazing place to stay and we were both sad to leave this island (but not the ferocious mosquitoes) behind. Valladolid - 2 Nights Valladolid is a colonial city that we used as a home base for visiting the Coba ruins (about 1 hour away by bus) and Chichen Itza (about 45 minutes away by bus). The city itself was beautiful and we probably could have spent more time here. We explored the Convento San Bernardino de Siena and then cooled down in Cenote Zaci. Swimming in the cenote (sinkhole) was a highlight of our time here. If we returned, we would definitely check out the ruins at Ek'Balam, which are just outside of the city. Merida - 6 Nights When we went to Chichen Itza, we were able to bring our backpacks with us and leave them in a luggage room at the entrance.  From there we caught a bus straight to Merida. Merida is another beautiful colonial city. We stayed here much longer than anticipated due to Ashley's stomach troubles, but never found ourselves tired of the place. Merida has a great market to buy groceries, a main plaza that had something happening every night (including Mayan dancing, street performers, and musicians), streets that close down for restaurants to move outside at night, and a free zoo to check out. The city is full of history and their were numerous buildings and museums to explore. If you are looking for a really nice hammock, you need to check out Merida (though try not to get swindled into paying three times its value, which is common). Our hostel had a pool, which was almost a necessity in the heat. We splurged on a tour to Uxmal and Kabah from our hostel, since we thought we should pay for a guide at some point to get a bit of the history behind the Mayan ruins. The tour was okay, but our tour guide seemed like a bit of swindler and we ended up feeling pressured into paying extra to visit a Mayan shaman (not worth the 50 pesos per person). We also felt rushed at the ruins... though we were happy to hear the stories about the Mayans, we would have appreciated more time to wander and take pictures. Campeche - 4 Nights Campeche is yet another colonial city in Mexico. It's downtown area was walled in to protect it from pirate attacks in the 18th century. Not all of the wall remains, but downtown Campeche has been painstakingly restored and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We visited many museums in this city and learned that a mansion built in the 1500s is not necessarily the best place to stay. Our day trip to Edzna was well worth it for the beautiful ruins.  As a bonus, we got to experience hitchhiking with 7 other people in the back of a pickup truck for the 70 km trip from Edzna back to Campeche.  We spent one more night than planned here because we didn't book bus tickets to Palenque in advance and the only bus leaving on the day we first wanted to go was sold out. Palenque - 2 Nights Palenque was the cheapest place we visited in Mexico. We stayed outside of the town in a cabana in the jungle, and woke to the sound of howler monkeys each morning. We only stayed here long enough to visit the ruins (if you want a cheap tour guide, turn down the guys outside and hire one of the guys inside... the adults charge about 100 pesos per person and the kids charge about 50 pesos). The ruins were some our favourites. You could actually go inside one of the palaces, see various bedrooms, and walk out the other side. Most of the other ruins we've been to either forbid you to go inside of them or only have entrances to single rooms. We could have stayed longer, but were anxious to get to Guatemala to learn Spanish. We booked transport through a tour agency in Palenque to take a bus, a boat, and another bus to Flores, Guatemala.

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