They say “Virginia is for Lovers” but if you want to people watch on some serious make out sessions, Merida is the place to be.
For the first time in a week our Telcel stick finally started working. Thank goodness for big cities. It was slow going at first, but eventually we found the Rainbow RV park, on the highway heading towards Progresso. The only RV park (that we could find anyway) anywhere near Merida. It was nearly empty and the manager wasn’t there. It also offered little shade. I think they are either in transition between owners (we had read conflicting reports whether it was open or closed) or simply a minimal operation. We decided to check out some other options for lodging closer to where we wanted to be: Downtown.
Booking.com was very helpful when searching for lodging in Merida. Because of the size of the city, there were nearly 20 options in our price range, near centro, and 6 of those were pet friendly. I think the best value was probably Hotel Reforma. 515 pesos per night (per Booking.com with taxes)– AC, TV, Pool, WiFi, Parking, and the ambiance was very nice. It was also right next to the Zocalo. If you have that in your budget I recommend staying there. We decided cheaper was better and checked out a hostel next. Hostel Casa Nico was slightly further from centro, pet friendly, (sorta) English speaking, and still close enough we could walk everywhere. They had parking (tall enough for the Jeep + RTT and Surfboards), hot (mostly warm but good enough) water, a shared kitchen/fridge, WiFi, a small pool (no one used it while we were there, but it seemed clean), and included a modest breakfast of bread and fruit. There are only 2 rooms that are pet friendly – one, a 3 bed dorm style room can be rented privately for 280 pesos. Its also on the street and noisier. The other (the one we rented) had a king size bed, and was close enough to the lobby we had WiFi in our room, for 300 pesos. Being further from centro was good for dog walking too, since we didn’t have to compete as much for sidewalk space. They also had a kitchen, water cooler, and Fridge for guest use. The ambiance was pretty much non-existent (it’s a hostel so you get what you pay for), but the employees were great and we had no complaints. If you don’t mind some peeling paint and water stains (and some mosquitoes living in your shower drain) we would highly recommend it.
Merida is one of Mexico’s many World Heritage sites. The colonial center of Merida has been mostly restored and is beautiful with its architecture and colors. We spent most of our first day walking around and doing some sight-seeing.
The first night was spent relaxing in the common area. What started out as a few Americans (we met Brian and Emily from Montana backpacking the Yucatan for 3 weeks) turned into an all out international fest by the end of the night. We had Puerto Rican, German, Japanese, American and French all hanging out and talking, drinking beer and sharing the rest of our Mezcal. The best part about this (aside from the camaraderie and general good time) was we got some information about places to stay and visit in the parts of Mexico we hadn’t been to yet, as well as some parts of Guatemala.
The next few days we spent more time strolling around town, checking out the market, eating (bacon wrapped hotdogs anyone?) and taking in some music around the different plazas in town. The evenings spent in the common area always ended in too much drinking, too much talking and too much fun. Miguel, who worked the front desk, shared some local entertainment and food information, and toured us around the city a little after his shift one night.
Merida has a lot of museums, galleries and big historic churches and buildings. We were a little preoccupied with Barley being sick (someone ate something he shouldn’t have), so we didn’t get to enjoy as much of these things as we would like (especially since some of them are free). Even so, Merida was definitely a highlight of the trip for us.
After 4 days in Merida, we headed for Piste, the city where Chichen Itza is located. The Piramide Inn at the edge of town offers ground camping and allows RVer’s to park out front. We paid 100 pesos per night. The showers were cold, but they had decent bathrooms and a big pool we could use. The place where we camped they were planning to tear down, and it was a little overgrown (the rest of the grounds were nice). Also the grounds she said we could camp on were covered in HUGE ant hills and these trails all over. We didn’t find out until later that these trails are from the ants. These ants, called leaf-cutters, go out at night and form a line from their hill to a tree and carry leaves back home for the rest of the colony. The lines are HUGE. 6-12 inches wide and some stretched over 50 feet – all PACKED with ants. We decided to put our tent up on a concrete pad under a palapa and were never more thankful than when we saw this:
We camped under the enclosed Palapa – This area is scheduled to be demolished
We met a couple from Sydney who had been traveling for 10 months already, coming north from Argentina. Its amazing how many people travel for months/years at a time! The following day we headed on the short walk (about 2 KM) to Chichen Itza. It was the second biggest ruins site I’ve ever seen (Termessos in Turkey was the biggest, it covered a whole mountain).
Tic Tac Toe anyone?
The ruins were impressive for sure, but they were either under repair or they just changed the rules because you could no longer climb on anything, nor go in to the chambers. Even pictures from the website are misleading, and show people climbing the tall Pyramid Kulkulkan (or El Castillo). The website also has outdated information on prices and events (the light show is under repair), and even tells people not to buy from the vendors in the park as they enter “illegally”. That’s a big joke because (a) there are probably hundreds of them, and (b) they have their own entrance! The other big downfall is the amount of people. We arrived around 9:30 and it seemed crowded, but by the time we left around noon, it was over-run with tour buses and Mexican families (Sunday is free for citizens in national parks). We could barely fit out the entrance. And last but not least, its expensive. Most sites we researched were less than 60 pesos per person to enter. This one was 188 pesos EACH. It would have been worth it if we could have climbed around and explored more, but since everything was closed to guests, we wouldn’t recommend it.
After going we discovered the reason (speculated at least by some locals) climbing the ruins is no longer allowed. Apparently a tourist woman fell down the Castillo steps and died. The pyramids have been closed since 2006. I can see how that would happen, but that is a risk everywhere you go, even some cities and towns have steep steps, and you don’t see them getting roped off when someone falls down. Accidents happen everywhere (I’m an expert on this one, trust me), so it is up to you to be careful when you are traveling. Even some of the sidewalks are scary here!
Nearby are also some caves, and a few Cenotes (sinkholes filled with water) nearby. The Cenote recommended by the owners at Piramide was about 15 kilometers away (starts with a Y but I can’t remember the name), but after exhausting ourselves that morning in the heat we just weren’t up for it.
We headed for the coast of Tulum the next day. There was a place north about 40 km in Xpu-ha we planned to stay but wanted to check out Tulum beach instead. There are a few campsites (one ground tent only and one you could possibly open your RTT or park a small RV), but there isn’t anything nearby besides resorts, restaurants and beaches. Oh and yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. Since we would have been limited in resources for food/wifi/etc. we decided to head towards Punta Allen (even more limited – aka no wifi, no telcel and no – ok very few – people). We got a little food at the grocery store back near the highway, and then headed back. When we got to the gate, the park ranger (I guess that was what you would call him) stopped us. He wouldn’t let us pass with our surfboards. The area of Punta Allen is a reserve and no watersports are allowed. We weren’t planning on surfing (plus, there is no surf in the Carribean – at least not to my knowledge) but wouldn’t let us go unless we left them at the gatehouse. Hmmm…. Leave our surfboards, with no security we will get them back (besides the word of one guy)?… doesn’t sound kosher to me. So, upset we couldn’t go to what was supposed to be the best beach camping of our trip so far, we decided to just head to Calderitas and get ready for Belize.
Camp at Yax-Ha
Yax-Ha Resort and RV park is picturesque with the whole side open to the bay. There are nice shower/bathrooms and a nice pool as well. We really only wanted to stay there since it was near to the Vet, so we planned to look for other lodging nearby. They have WiFi and allow dogs – 200 pesos.
Shortly after arriving, the same tour bus we saw in Piste showed up. Now this is not your standard tour bus. This thing is huge, and works as your accommodations, your transportation and your restaurant. What was going to be a quiet night ended up being rather noisy (not sure why everyone decided that chatting near our campsite was a good idea, but they did) and, with only 2 bathrooms/gender, I ended up waiting a few times before I could get in. This was especially annoying when they were all showering (bathroom/shower stalls were connected)
The next day we packed it all in (we planned on leaving some stuff out and coming back but changed our minds) and headed to Chetumal for the vet visit. Belize requires an additional health certificate from the country you are coming from, in addition to the US international certificate. Barley got a haircut, a new Rabies shot and peanut got her nails done, in addition to the certificates. Barley’s shot from the US is a 3 year shot but Belize requires it annually. The vet was accommodating and backdated it 30 days (SHHHH don’t tell!) for us so we wouldn’t have to wait around in Mexico (shots can’t be less than 30 days old either) before heading to Belize. We decided while we waited for Barley’s beauty session to be finished to check out Bacalar Lake. It looked cool from the road, and we couldn’t find any pet friendly places in Chetumal, so we hoped for some camping. The Costa road (starts from the town and runs south to the Cenote Azul) has a lot of nice homes and a few resort hotels. We found a few spots for camping as well, but one was too primitive for the price (300 pesos) and the other was too small an area and only ground tent camping (also 300 pesos but included breakfast and WiFi).
We forged ahead, and just before leaving town we found Bacalar Camp. The campsite has room for a few small RV’s and has room for ground tent camping. If you don’t have your own gear they can rent it to you as well. Hot showers, bathrooms, kitchen, fridge and WiFi for 75 pesos per person. Until we go to Belize (we have to wait for some paperwork) this is where we shall stay!
Everybody gets to swim!