Yucatan Road Trip | Our 5 day Itinerary

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Yucatan Road Trip Chichen Itza

OUR 5 DAY YUCATAN ROAD TRIP

The Yucatan peninsula is the perfect region in Mexico to take a road trip. The highways are well kept and uncrowded, the cities are charming. The people are open and friendly.

There is so much culture and nature to experience from the mayan families that still populate this area, to the deep underground cenotes that provide fresh water, the flow of life to this peninsula.

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT TAKING A ROADTRIP IN MEXICO

  • The Yucatan Peninsula is the safest part of Mexico.
  • Traveling around the Yucatan is easy.
  • Watch out for speed bumps AKA topes. They will ruin your day. You’ll find them mostly in towns. They don’t always have warning signs.
  • Watch out for scams- More on this in the epilogue
  • It’s legal for anyone except for the driver to drink in the car!
  • The are sometimes police checkpoints on the highway (especially near state borders, and towns). Most likely they'll just ask who you are, where you're from, and where you're going before waving you on. There is the slight possibility that you could have your car involuntarily searched. Don’t travel with any drugs and you should be just fine.
  • Use the bathroom every chance you get.
  • If you can’t find a public bathroom in a tiny pueblo and you really need to go badly, ask around! A kind family will probably let you use theirs, it might be an outhouse.
Yucatan Road trip. Looking out the front window.

RENTING A CAR IN MEXICO

Renting A car in Mexico is a very similar experience to renting a car in the USA. It’s not that much fun, but it’s worth it once you get the keys. You’ll have to make the same basic decisions about whether you’re going to pay extra for the insurance or use the prayer method.

 

A FEW THINGS TO KNOW

  • You don't need an international driver's license to drive in Mexico.
  • Having a credit card (not a debit card) makes renting a car much easier.
  • If you don’t have a credit card you can likely still find a place that will rent to you with a debit card, just ask around.
  • I was even able to find a place that was willing to rent me a car for cash, with a debit card deposit. Score!

For more tips and recommendations about renting a car in Mexico, check out this post from Anna Everywhere.

Inside the palacio gobierno Merida, Mexico

Our story begins in Merida, Mexico. The capital of the state of Yucatán.

Gabby and I had already been living here for 2 1/2 months, but had yet to really explore much of the surrounding areas. There’s nothing like singing along to 90’s tunes with windows rolled down, so when we got news that our good friend Ayelet (who we hadn’t seen in over 5 years!) was coming to visit, We almost died from excitement knew we had to make the most out of our time together by taking an epic road trip.

 

We had approximately 5 days for our Yucatan road trip and planned to hit the following destinations:

  • Merida
  • Valladolid
  • Chichen Itza
  • Bacalar
  • Puerto Morelos
couples strolling the plaza grande in Merida, Mexico

WHERE TO STAY IN MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN

Merida is a super charming city, and there are so many unique accommodations to choose from. When choosing a hotel we always look for places that stand out from the convention. We prefer eco friendly accommodations with an emphasis on local culture and design.

We lived in Merida at the time of this road trip, so we had an apartment. Being good travel bloggers though, we like to scope out hotels so we can save you the time of figuring out if they're any good. For that reason, we often reach out to hotels we're interested in for complimentary stays. Please be assured we will always give you our 100% honest opinion, and would never recommend a hotel we wouldn't go back to again ourselves. Bookings made through our affiliate links allow us to share some of the commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting Local Nomads.

 

Click the hotel name for photos and reviews:

Hotel Medio Mundo

The hotel is a beautifully designed colonial house with gardens and pool area which doubles as a vegan restaurant in the evening. The rooms are comfortable, with air conditioning, and lots of natural light. We really enjoy doing our work by the pool in the mornings. Their vegan restaurant is also amazing. We eat there as often as possible. They serve complete menus based on a different country's cuisine each night. So far we've had their Thai, Japanese, and Caribbean. About $50-90 USD/night

 

Kuka y Naranjo

Our favorite hotel in Merida. Kuka y Naranjo is a brand new property, only open for one month at the time of this update (May 2019). They're super eco friendly (more on this soon), socially conscious, and really focused on the local culture of Merida and the Yucatan. Each of their seven rooms is themed after a different neighborhood in Merida with information to help you learn. They serve a delicious breakfast each morning. After breakfast your food scraps go into a composter which produces natural cooking gas for their stove. No detail has been overlooked, the owners are amazing people. Our two days here were some of the best we've ever had in a hotel. Rooms are about $50-75 USD/night.

 

Hotel Urban

Hotel Urban is a new hotel located right in the heart of Merida Centro. We were attracted to them by their ultra modern design (rare in Merida), and their rooftop pool (because, obviously). The rooms here are basic, but comfortable, with air conditioning and a nice big TV (with Netflix, thanks Dutch people! Hope you don't find our selections too weird). The previously mentioned pool was amazing to watch the sunset in at night, but provided little relief from the heat in the daytime. This place is perfect if you want to experience the electric energy of Merida Centro up close. About $40-80/night.

DAY 1 | EXPLORING MERIDA CENTRO

Valentines Day

Merida is an amazing city to explore. You really can’t begin to scratch the surface in a few days. We lived in this city for three months and still have so so much to experience. We plan to keep coming back to this city for many years to come. You could literally spend your entire life here and never run out of interesting things to learn.

 

Getting around in Merida is not difficult. The Centro is quite walkable, but if you have to go a long way Uber is a convenient form of transportation in Merida. Taxis also work just fine, just be aware that taxis here don't use a meter. Ask the fare before you leave. 

group pose in front of green wall in Palacio publico in Merida, Mexico

EXPLORING THE PUBLIC BUILDINGS IN MERIDA CENTRO

We only had a short time to introduce Ayelet to this city, and we couldn’t have picked a better day to do our exploring. It just so happened to be Valentines day. The entire main square, La Plaza Grande, was filled with romantic couples wearing shades of red and pink, carrying giant teddy bears and bouquets of flowers.

We freely explored the public buildings surrounding the plaza and watched the couples strolling hand in hand from the second floor verandas. The three of us couldn’t help getting swept up in all the romance.

Murals in Placio Publico | Merida, Mexico

These old colonial buildings are truly magnificent. Behind the outer walls of these structures are spacious courtyards and gardens that house incredible fountains and murals. They’re open to the public and free to walk around in. Just give the armed security guard a friendly,”Hola Buenos Dias” as you pass through the entrance. He’s there to protect you, the government employees, the artwork and artifacts.

We took lots of photos, and even posed for a spontaneous photo shoot with a fellow traveller we met in the Plaza Grande before taking a break from the afternoon heat with some ice cream.

First person shot of ice cream cone | Mérida, Mexico

FOR ICE CREAM [ helado ] LOVERS….

If you need to battle the heat, we recommend grabbing a gelato from Pola, just a few blocks from the plaza grande. They serve up creative flavors like Apple Compote with Blue Cheese, and Sour Orange with Cherry. Stop in on a Monday to taste their Pork and Beans flavor.

 

For ice cream that’s a little more traditional head to Santa Clara one block away from the plaza, or grab the ultimate on-the-go cold treat, La Paleta. Paletas are popsicles usually made with fruit and regional flavors, skip the chocolate or vanilla and go for the guanabana (soursop) flavor, or the arroz (rice) flavor, which tastes like horchata.

Horse Carriage on Paseo Montejo, Merida, Mexico

STROLL THE PASEO MONTEJO

In the evening we made our way to the famous Paseo De Montejo for a romantic stroll. The Paseo has wide sidewalks, grand mansions, classy shops, boutique hotels, hip cafes and bars. If you’re into it, you can even turn the romance up to 11 with a horse drawn carriage ride. It’s the perfect place for an evening with your lover whether you’re keeping it low key or going out on the town.

Huevos Motuleños from Maiz, Canela y Cilantro in Mérida, Mexico

WHERE TO EAT IN MERIDA

Conveniently, Merida has a lot of great vegetarian/vegan options which made it easy for us to pick places to eat with Ayelet. We love to try regional specialties when we arrive to a new place, but we also love finding healthy vegetarian spots for when we’ve had a few too many tacos.

 

Here are some of our favorites:

 

El Apapacho | Go for the blue tortillas, stay for the mole, and keep going back again and again for the mole. We hear their cookies are pretty dank too.

 

Sukra | Perfectly located on the Paseo de Montejo to stare at a pair of delicately aged mansions. At first glance they look abandoned, but they are actually still inhabited. Go for the chai frappe and the veggie burger made with beets!

 

Regional Favorites

Maiz Canela y Cilantro | for the best Huevos Motuleños,  Horchata, and other Jugos.

Chaya Maya | Panuchos, Salubutes, Tamales, and the Lomitos De Valladolid.

Reina de Montejo | Plastic Chairs and Tables, Tacos, Tortas and flan.

Cenote X’batun outside of Merida, Mexico

DAY 2 | CENOTES NEAR MERIDA

 

WHAT'S A CENOTE? 

To understand Cenotes [Sen-oh-tays| we’ll have to get a little scientific for a moment. Imagine the surface of the Yucatan Peninsula is like a sponge with lots of holes. These holes have pools of water, the cenotes, which are connected to one another via systems of underground rivers.

 

They can be VERY DEEP and are often filled with cool crystal blue water that is perfect for a refreshing swim and a snorkel. Sometimes these cenotes are completely underground and only accessed through a small opening at the top, others are completely open. Visiting cenotes is hands down the best thing to do in the Yucatan. There are thousands of them to choose from.

THE PLAN

Wake up and make our way to the Plaza de Fiesta Americana to rent a car. There are a bunch of car rental brands there just waiting to hand over the keys to your freedom-mobile. Unfortunately, our plan quickly crumbled when one car rental agent after another informed me that I wouldn’t be able to rent a car without a credit card. My american debit card simply wouldn’t be enough.

Cenote Dzonbatal outside of Merida, Mexico

PLAN B

Quickly check our favorite expat FB group (First Merida Amigos) and search for recommendations for private drivers.

 

I found a recommendation that mentioned a great driver who spoke English, and also included his whatsapp number. I sent the guy a message explaining our situation (in English) and within 5 minutes he responded telling me that he would be happy to take us to see the 2 cenotes for 1500 pesos (about 80 dollars) for the whole afternoon, and he’d meet us in 10 minutes.

 

We took those few minutes to use the nice bathroom on the 2nd floor of the Fiesta Americana to the left, and stop into the OXXO convenience store, for snacks and some beer (Tip: It’s legal to drink in the car as long as you’re not the driver, but you can’t drink on the street.)

 

We already had an idea of which cenotes we wanted to visit, since we had planned to do our exploring independently.  Ayelet was a little nervous about being claustrophobic, so we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be down in any underground cave cenotes.

Cenote Dzonbatal outside of Merida, Mexico

Roberto, our driver, listened carefully to our plans, and *without a bit of pressure* suggested two different cenotes that were a bit closer to town, and “even more beautiful” than the ones we had originally planned. Given that Roberto is a legitimate expert on the area, we decided to defer to him on this one.

 

We really got more than we bargained for with Roberto. He turned out to be the most amazing tour guide. He had so many stories to share with us along the way. He told us about living in Merida, told us how great the healthcare system was there, and that many people travel to Merida from far away for their great hospitals.

abandoned hacienda outside of Merida

Along the way Roberto asked if we’d like to take a short detour through an old abandoned hacienda. It was a no brainer for us. Roberto explained the hacienda system, and the ways that the local population who lived on the hacienda had to work hard without pay. The cash crop of the day was a fiber called Hennequin that was harvested from a type of agave cactus. He showed us the various buildings including the family house, the homes where the workers lived, and the place where they worked processing the fibers, as well as local flowers and trees.

Rusted abandoned Studebaker car outside hacienda

We took the opportunity to hop out of the car and for a few quick photos around the abandoned structures before moving on to the cenotes!

 

As mentioned before, swimming in cenotes is probably the coolest thing you can do in the Yucatan, and one of the coolest things we’ve done anywhere in the world. There are so many cenotes in the yucatan, and literally hundreds within a few hours drive from Merida. The ones we visited with Roberto were called X’batun and Dzonbacal. These two were so close we could have easily walked from one to the other, nevertheless Roberto insisted we take it easy and save our energy for the cenote.

Swimming in a cenote for the first time is a truly magical experience. You can see so far down into the deep water. Bring a pair of goggles or a snorkeling mask for an even more immersive experience! Are you brave enough to jump in?

 

WHAT TO BRING TO A CENOTE: 

  • Bathing Suit
  • Towel
  • Goggles/Snorkeling mask
  • Sunscreen (For environmental reasons, most cenotes prefer that you don’t use sunscreen before bathing.)
Cenote Dzonbacal outside Merida, Mexico

By the end of the day we were totally spent from cenoteing so hard. Nevertheless, Roberto was charming the whole way back to Merida and even sang a few songs for us before dropping us off right at the front door of our house.

 

In the end, we were so glad the we weren’t able to rent a car. Roberto, our driver was such an important part of the experience. We had an amazing day, and would recommend Roberto in a heartbeat for any tours around Merida.

woman in blue riding past a yellow colonial building on a red bicycle.

DAY 3- DESTINATION VALLADOLID / CHICHEN ITZA OR BUST

FIRST MISSION OF THE DAY

Figure out how the hell we were going to rent a car without a credit card. I got on the phone (with my broken spanish,) called a few different places around Merida and ended up finding a place that was willing to rent me a car for cash! All I needed to do was to put a 1000 peso (~$50 USD) deposit on my debit card.

 

I walked down to Veloz rental shop on Calle 60 near Parque de Santa Lucia, with my passport, drivers license, and debit card. 30 minutes later I was back to the house with our road trip ride. Piece of cake. Now there was nothing standing between us and the open road, except a few one-way street detours in Merida Centro.

Silhouette of a bird against clouds

2ND MISSION

Drive to Valladolid (45 minutes past Chichen Itza), Check into our AirBnb, unload our stuff from the car, get lunch, then drive back to Chichen Itza for the night time light show

 

There was one police checkpoint, just as we left the city on Highway 180 going East. The officers simply waved us along and we were on our way with the windows down and the 90’s playlist on shuffle. **cue Freedom by George Michael**

 

Driving in the Yucatan is a pleasure. The highway views aren’t anything to write home about but they are well maintained and traffic moves quickly. The speed limits range from 80 km/h to 110 km/h. Regardless of what the signs say, traffic tends to flow at a steady 120km/h.

 

Valladolid, Mexico

INSTANTLY CHARMED

We pulled into Valladolid, and the colonial buildings reminded us of Merida, but the small town quality of this place instantly contrasted Merida’s metropolitan vibe.

Addresses can be a little vague in Mexico. We found the street we believed the house to be on, and ended up asking a barber if he knew where the house was. Just a minute later, we were knocking on the door of the correct house, and receiving the customary “tour de casa”. This house ended up being our favorite AirBnB of the trip, and we even came back to stay a month later when we returned to Valladolid.

The space was perfect for the three of us and included a small patio with chairs and a coffee table. It was located in the Santa Lucia neighborhood, just a 5-10 minute walk from the main square, and 10-15 minutes from the Calzada De Los Frailes.

posing with a little girl at a Mayan Palapa House in Valladolid

EATING IN VALLADOLID

 

Valladolid is famous for longaniza sausage, cochinita pibil, and lomitos, all meat. With a quick crosscheck of Happycow.net and google, we were able to track down Yerbabuena de Sisal, a great restaurant with awesome vegetarian options, killer juices, and great smoothies.

 

We’ve eaten at Yerbabuena dozens of times now, and we never get sick of it. Believe it or not, I’m currently writing this post from Yerbabuena…(so meta). They have one of the best veggie burgers around, and their pumpkin seed dip (zizil pak) is a filling snack on a hot day. We usually cool down with a ‘refreshing tonic’, unless we’re about to crush out some work, with a couple espressos.

 

 

OTHER PLACES WE LIKE TO EAT IN VALLADOLID

La Sandia- Bagel sandwiches and juices

Casa Del Maiz - Huevos, and rich corn tortillas

Los Portales- Beer, nachos, and people watching

Chichen Itza El Castillo purple light

CHICHEN ITZA LIGHT SHOW 

Once we’d unloaded the car and refueled with veggie burgers we were ready to experience the Chichen Itza evening light show.

We tried to find details about buying tickets online, but didn’t get very far. Most of the information we found seemed suspicious or possibly inaccurate...like the one that said you needed to buy the tickets online in advance. We also had a hard time figuring out the actual start time.

We ended up just driving out there assuming (correctly) that we’d be able to buy tickets at the front gate.

Here’s what you need to know about the night time light show at Chichen Itza

  • You need a separate ticket from the day time pass
  • Tickets cost about 400 pesos per person.
  • You’ll need some form of identification to exchange for use of the audio-tour device
  • You won’t have access to the entire property, but you can still see a lot of the main structures
  • Arrive around 6:30 to get your ticket and get the audio device. There are a limited number of audio devices available, so get there early. They also do not provide headphones, so bring a pair of your own so you don’t have to hold the device to your ear.
Chichen Itza carved skulls in stone wall, lit by blue light at night.

SEEING CHICHEN ITZA AT NIGHT

Touring around Chichen Itza at night was a remarkable experience. The way that the ruins were lit made the detailed carvings easier to see. The scale of this enormous site is jaw dropping.. My favorite part? The giant Pok Ta Pok court where teams would compete to please the gods, and to preserve their own lives.

After an hour of guided exploration around the central pyramid, it was time for the show. The light show is a video mapping presentation with an animated story projected onto the face of “El Castillo,” the great pyramid.

Rainbow lights shine on Chichen Itza pyramis

The show is presented in Spanish, but the audio device includes an English translation that syncs up with the video in real time. We were all impressed with the quality of the show. Although it presented a greatly simplified understanding of the mayan experience, we were entertained and felt like we’d learned something valuable at the end of the night.

 

We drove back to Valladolid feeling so satisfied after an amazing day of open road, radio singalongs, and the intoxicating love of three good friends on an adventure together. By the time we got back there was little in the way of vegetarian food available. The only thing we were able to find open was an italian restaurant serving up vegetarian ravioli, which turned out to be great!

Valladolid Cathedral at night with moon overhead

Day 4- Beautiful Bacalar

 

If you’ve never heard of Bacalar before, then you’re really in for something special. Bacalar is an amazing freshwater lake with the most beautiful turquoise blue water. They say that on a sunny day you can see seven different shades of blue.

 

We were excited to get to Bacalar, but rather than blazing a hot path out of Valladolid, we decided to spend a casual morning taking in the sights. We didn’t want to rush out of town and planned to arrive to Bacalar by sunset.

Valladolid Iglacia de San Servacio

First we made our way to the main plaza. Francisco Canton Rosado park, or simply “El Zocalo” is a must see in Valladolid. The Catholic church is the center of life for Mexican people. If you’re old enough, you may even remember seeing Valladolid’s cathedral in the music video for 98 Degrees Una Noche. If not, check it out, There are scenes filmed at El Zocalo, Calzada de los Frailes, as well as Chichen Itza.

Tip: Grab a paleta (popsicle) from El Michoacan or an helado (ice cream) from Wabi Gelato (not just a casual recommendation, this place has the good stuff)  just a few blocks away and stroll the plaza. Locals and tourists alike will be relaxing on park benches, sipping cool drinks, reading a book, or exchanging some saliva with their lover. Mexicans are very passionate in the romance department.

Red Colonial Building with red and white fountain. Valladolid, Mexico

Next, we made our way to the iconic Calzada de los Frailes for breakfast. The Calzada is the heart of the tourist district in Valladolid. It is lined with beautiful colonial houses and old hotels. We love checking out the cute little shops and cafes, and of course the architecture. We ate breakfast at Yutsil, which serves some great typical Mexican egg dishes and damn good juices (a common theme in Mexico.)

 

After breakfast we walked past the famous Convento De San Bernadino de Siena. At night they also do a video mapping show on the walls of the convent. We didn’t have a chance to see it on this trip, but have seen it several times since coming back to live in Valladolid.

The day was starting to get away from us and we still had a long way to drive. There’s no Uber service in Valladolid, so we grabbed a taxi back to our house, just 30 pesos. We loaded our maletas (suitcases) back into the trunk of the car, fueled up, and Lake Bacalar set as our next destination, we were back on our way.

Green Volkswagen Beetle in front of orange colonial building

Bacalar is a 3 ½ hour drive from Valladolid. We headed south out of town through a village called Chichimila and onto highway 295 which connects to highway 307 at a town called Felipe Carrillo Puerto. The drive was mostly boring and uneventful with the exception of the occasional speed bumps (topes), tiny villages, and one police stop at the state border between Yucatan and Quintana Roo. Once again the officers smiled and waved us by.

 

We failed to calculate the one hour time zone change between Valladolid and Bacalar and ended up arriving to Bacalar after sunset. We checked into our accommodation, Blue Matisse which we had booked through Booking.com this time.

 

Tip: Pay attention to the daylight savings time in Mexico, sometimes the state of Yucatan will be one hour behind Quintana Roo and sometimes they are the same time zone.

Lake Bacalar dock with yellow sailboat

I chose Blue Matisse based on it’s positioning on the water, and the great price. When I saw the photos of the lake taken from the dock I was sold. The property was a little out of town, but since we had a car, the 5 minute drive really didn’t make much difference. If you don’t have a car, the hotel staff could easily call you a taxi into town.

 

The rooms here were fine. Each one was like its own bungalow with one or two beds and a bathroom. We were literally 10 steps from the lake. The only drawback was that the room didn’t have hot water. Given that it was a hot night, the cool shower didn’t really bother us at all.

 

We checked in and enjoyed a few minutes on the dock, and then piled back into the car and down to the town for dinner with a view. We found a nice spot lakeside called Kai Pez and settled in for a nice romantic meal for 3. We ordered a bottle of wine to get us started and soon we were rehashing the trip, laughing over new inside jokes, sighing and simply relishing the beautiful time we’d had together.

Nopales with Panela cheese

After polishing off some nopales a delicious tuna burger, and a few glasses of wine each...we stumbled back into town to walk off our buzz before making our way back to the hotel. The town of Bacalar is very small, although we hear it’s growing quickly. We snapped a customary photo in front of the Bacalar sign, browsed the local vendors in the plaza, and grabbed some helado for our walk (notice the trend?). I was shocked to find “Salvia” as one of the listed flavors….yes that Salvia. Curiosity got the best of me, and I ordered it. The taste was great, however there were no psychedelic visuals to report on.

 

first person shot of ice cream cone | Bacalar, Mexico

 

Later that night, back at Blue Matisse, we made a plan to get up early and catch the sunrise on the dock. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that sunrise in Bacalar (and all along the coast) happens around 7:30am. How convenient is that?!

Girl laying down on mandala tapestry, covering her face with fingers

DAY 5 | BACALAR BY DAY PUERTO MORELOS BY NIGHT

Staring down the stairs into turquoise water. Bacalar, Mexico

We made it to the dock that next morning by 7am.

As the sun illuminated the lake, we were stunned by the natural beauty and serenity of Lake Bacalar. We had a quiet place on the dock to ourselves. We spent the time quietly chatting, doing a little yoga, meditating, and taking in the peaceful wonder of the landscape. We were joined by a long legged stork-like bird who enjoyed her morning breakfast of fresh snails nearby as we relaxed on the dock.

Stork walking by plastic table and chairs

 

Our first mission of the day was to find some solid wifi.

We hadn’t booked our room for that night yet. Also, Gabby had a bit of work that needed to be done for a client and she was getting close to a deadline.

 

two girls laying down on the dock by the blue lake

Finding internet in Bacalar was more difficult than we expected. We tried a few places before settling into “The Manati.”Sadly, their internet wasn’t available, but Gabby was able to get her work done via cell service, and I scored a last minute AirBnB for that night. This place had decent food, but the vibe alone was worth coming back for. They had amazing murals decorating the place and a really cool shop selling unique local handmade products.

We decided over breakfast to continue all the way to Puerto Morelos that evening. Puerto Morelos is a cute beach town just south of Cancun by 25 minutes. The close proximity to the Cancun airport meant that we could quickly drop Ayelet off the next morning, without having to take a long heavy hearted drive to the airport for tearful goodbyes.

 

This plan also meant that we would have about a 4 hour drive along the coast past Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. For the sake of maximizing our time in Bacalar that day, we planned to do the driving at night. Driving at night is often warned against in Mexico, but the chance of you running into actual trouble is still very small in the Yucatan Peninsula. We were just fine.

stromatolites and dead tree in Lake Bacalar

A DAY AT THE LAGOON

We didn’t have a ton of time to spend in the lake, so we made our way by car to Cocalitos, the sanctuary of the stromatalites. These stromatolites are formed by living bacteria, and are said to be one of the earliest signs of life on the planet.

 

Stromatolites in blue water

 

There we found lots of other tourists hanging out, having picnics, relaxing in hammocks. The place itself wasn’t much to write about, other than the stromatolites, the coolest thing about this place was the hammocks they had set up in the water. For us, it was just a place to access the lake. The staff there weren’t friendly, but we weren’t really there to make friends with anyone other than the lake. 

narrow wooden bridge extends out to a tiny island surrounded by turquoise water.

THESE COLORS ARE MIND BOGGLING

The fresh water feels so good on your skin compared to salty sea water, you can just float the day away. We spent a few hours just relaxing, meeting a few fellow travelers, soaking up a bit of sun, and just staring into the blues. 

Three polaroids of Gabby and Ayelet at lake bacalar

Once the sun started to make its way westward we reluctantly packed our things back into the car, and headed north toward Puerto Morelos.

Three polaroids at Lake Bacalar

We all regretted not having more time to spend in Bacalar. Not that we would have traded any of the other days, but had we one more day to spend- it definitely would have been at Lake Bacalar.

Wooden swings in the water at Lake Bacalar, Mexico

The drive to Puerto Morelos that night was a good chance to reflect on the trip.

This would be our last night together before returning Ayelet to the airport and we were all feeling the weight of it. Ayelet rode shotgun with me that night, and as we drove through the dark we made plans for future adventures.

 

Three polaroids of pineapples in a truck

 

The AirBnB we booked that night ended up being a flop. That’s the risk you take with last minute bookings. There was nothing too bad about the house other than the fact that we paid more for a house with a pool, and the pool was empty upon arrival. We were really hoping to have the pool to relax in for our last night, but what can you really do? Needless to say, no recommendation on this one.

 

We did have a wonderful private dinner at Tanino’s around 10:30 pm. The staff were so hospitable even though we came in so late, and the quiet garden atmosphere was perfect at the end of a long drive.

Docked boats at Puerto Morelos, Mexico

DAY 6 - PUERTO MORELOS

 

PUERTO MORELOS, SUNRISE 7:30 AM

Boats in the water at Puerto Morelos

 

Puerto Morelos is a tiny beach town between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The actual town is separated from the beach area by a large protected mangrove forest. There’s one road that goes through the forest and to the beach which makes for an interesting traffic pattern in town. We were super excited to visit Puerto Morelos after hearing such great things from our favorite Mexico travel youtubers Tangerine Travels. Definitely check them out if you're planning a Mexico trip!

 

First off, we made our way to the beach for sunrise. In recent years, the Riviera Maya has seen a dramatic increase in seaweed. We watched as local teams cleaned up seaweed that had washed onto the beach overnight. There was even a tractor that drove along scooping it up.

The vibe on the beach was very chill. This town doesn’t get a ton of tourist action, and most of the other gringos we saw seemed to have more of an expat look.

 

At 8:30 a group appeared on the beach for a yoga lesson. Everyone just brought their own mat. There seemed to be an older crowd, likely retirees, which makes sense with such a laid back, charming town.

 

Walking on the beach at Puerto Morelos

The main icon of Puerto Morelos is a lighthouse which got tired and leaned over at some point. They built a new, much bigger lighthouse, but the old one still remains to add a little character to the beach.

 

We cruised the beach, snapping photos, desperately trying to soak up every last bit of the time we had left together.

 

Eventually we made our way to the pier where the boat captains were eagerly awaiting authorization to take their boats out. Unfortunately the wind conditions had them all docked.

 

One of the Captains noticed that I was wearing a KIA Tigers Jersey, the baseball team from our city in South Korea. He told me that the local baseball team was also the Tigers. He introduced himself as Joaquin and told me about his boat. Apparently he is kindof a big deal.

Posing with Javier the boat captain | Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Of course we had to seal the moment with a photo. Unfortunately he blocked out the name of his boat, and for the life of me I can not remember it. Either way, if you’re looking for Joaquin, you’ll know where to find him.

 

There were a few good looking places to eat around town. We sat down at Le Cafe de Amancia, and despite a lack of appetite, ate a bit of fruit and eggs.

Colorful ceramic coffee cups

After breakfast we packed into the car for one last time, put her in drive, and got back on the highway going north towards Cancun Airport. Ayelet would be flying on to Guatemala where she’d be meeting up with her dad for more adventures. Gabby and I would be heading back to Merida, where we had just two weeks left on our AirBnB.

 

As it turned out, we made the correct decision to bypass Tulum and Playa del Carmen in favor of Puerto Morelos. The 25 minute drive to the airport was like ripping off a bandaid. We gave lots of hugs and kisses, promised to keep in touch, and to see each other again before 5 years passes.

EPILOGUE | DRIVING BACK TO MERIDA / ALMOST GOT SCAMMED 

 

Right after dropping Ayelet at the airport, we needed to stop to get some gas. We pulled into a gas station along the highway. Stupidly, I had spent all of my Mexican cash and asked to pay with my card. After the gas was already pumped, they told me that my card was declined.

 

I knew that there was money on it, so I assumed my bank had locked down my card for being out of the country….once again. BUT, I didn’t have enough signal to call my bank. So I asked if I could pay with American dollars. “Sure, no problema. $22”

 

Gabby went to the trunk where we had our emergency stash of American currency buried. I watched in the side view mirror as she paid the guy. As soon as she handed over the money the guy turned his back to her and shoved one of the bills into his apron.

 

Oh, I thought I gave you the exact amount, let me check….” I hear Gabby say from the back of the car. He had shoved the $20 dollar bill into his apron and showed her just the two singles.

 

“No! No! No!” I shouted. “Close the trunk and get back in the car. We’re leaving”

 

“Todo Bien, Todo Bien, everything’s good, everything’s good” said the gas station attendant.

 

I looked at him a look that said “I know exactly what’s going on here. We’re leaving.” Motherfucker caught me on the wrong morning.

 

The lesson here is watch out at gas stations. I’m not naming the brand because it could have just as easily been any of them. Gas stations are notorious for ripping off tourists in Mexico, especially around the coast, and it’s actually a real shame.

 

Our drive back to Merida was long, but we had a lot to talk about. We both felt so great about the trip we’d just taken, the beautiful places we’d seen, and the bright outlook we had for our futures. We’d fallen deeply in love with the Yucatan, and there was nothing we could do about it.

 

Colonial church with mayan palapa house

We made the decision to really dig deeper into this place and to explore so much more. We stopped back in Valladolid for lunch at Yerba Buena, and decided right there that this would be the next place we’d move to in Mexico.

 

After 3 months of living in the city, small town life looks pretty good.

 

Much more on that to come.

 

In the meantime Peace, Love, and Travel Light

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2 Responses

  1. Andres Amaya Marshall
    | Reply

    Adam n´ Gabby, thank you for this piece of your life putted on this post, you just encouraged me to take this same trip with my big and my little brother, but we leaving Mexico from Cancún to Bogotá (we´re from Colombia). Planing to visit Yucatan at the end of march 2020.

    Do you know if there is a problem with drivers under 25?
    What advice would you give us, we want to visit isla mujeres and other places around cancun?
    Thank you very much¡

    • LocalNomads
      | Reply

      Hi Andres! We’re so glad to enjoyed reading our story. We’re planning to take the trip again with my parents when the join us in Mexico next month! I’m not sure about drivers under 25…You can try reaching out to the car rental companies online or through what’s app. Isla mujeres is a very cool spot. We went there for new year’s eve last year. So many cool things to do on that little island.

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