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Please help me plan a trip to the Yucatan!

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Hello, Fellow Fodorites!

I am belatedly planning a solo trip to the Yucatan for this April—about 19 days in all—and am hoping to get your advice and comments on my plans and options. I’ve already learned a lot from threads here — thanks so much to all of you who previously shared your wisdom and experiences! I have a tentative itinerary for your review. And I have many, many questions. First, some information that might help put my questions in context:

Priorities: I am most interested in seeing Mayan sites, exploring natural settings, visiting colonial towns and cities, and appreciating the local culture (including, of course, tasting a variety of wonderful foods).

A bit about me:
• I’m an experienced solo international traveler, although this will be my first trip to Latin America.
• I don’t speak Spanish. I plan to learn at least a few basic terms and expressions before I go.
• I have no objection to relocating frequently—even every night or so. In fact, I often find relocating preferable to using a “base,” because I like seeing places after day-trippers have left.
• I strongly prefer to rely on public transportation, but am willing to rent a car for a day or two if doing so substantially improves my ability to see what I want to see.
• My budget for this trip allows an occasional splurge, but I’d prefer to keep expenses in check insofar as possible.
• I am not a morning person, and don’t plan to arise particularly early unless I have a really good reason for doing so (in which case I’ll manage).
• I’m female, so if there are any special safety or other concerns I should be aware of, please let me know.

I welcome your comments on, and suggestions for, my tentative itinerary. Note that this preliminary plan already involves a few days more than I’d initially envisioned (I was aiming for 2 weeks), but I’m not sure what I would cut without regrets. Any suggestions? Would a different routing be more efficient or more “do-able”? Also, are there things I’m skipping that I should consider adding, even if it means a slightly longer trip?

Day 1. Fly into Cancun and take the first possible bus to Puerto Morelos. Snorkel for a few hours (first time!), then spend the night.

Day 2. Travel by bus to Tulum in time to join a sunset bird-watching tour. (Buses run frequently and take about 1.5 hours?) Spend the night in Tulum. (For reasons of safety, cost, and convenience, I’m leaning toward staying in the town rather than on the beach. Does that make sense?)

Day 3. Explore Tulum’s archeological zone for an hour or two, visit the beach briefly, and then catch the 2:30 bus to Valladolid. Explore the town a bit and stay the night.

Day 4. Take the 9 a.m. bus to Ek’ Balam, returning to Valladolid around 1 p.m. (Is that bus information correct?) Take a van or rented bike to Cenotes Dzitnup and Samula, returning in time to take the 3:50 p.m. bus (correct?) to Izamal. Explore Izamal a bit and spend the night at a nearby restored hacienda.

Day 5. Arrange to reach Chichen Itza by midday or early afternoon at the latest. (Will 3 or 4 hours be enough time at Chichen Itza?) Take a bus to Merida, where I will spend the next 2 nights. After dinner, enjoy the public entertainment.

Day 6. Spend this day—a Sunday, if at all possible—in Merida. Visit museums and churches and enjoy the markets and activities of Domingo en Merida.

Day 7. Explore the Ruta Puuc. I could definitely use your help with plans for this day! My goals are to (a) reach Uxmal in time for the sound and light show, (b) see Kabah and Labna, and (c) if possible, visit the Loltun caves. (I expect to stay in Uxmal overnight and visit Uxmal’s archeological zone the next day.) The tours I’ve read about don’t seem to match my priorities very well. Perhaps my best option would be to rent a car and return it to Merida before taking a bus to Uxmal for the evening. I could skip the Loltun caves and take the ATS bus, but that seems awfully rushed, and I’d need to carry an overnight bag with me throughout the day. Are there other options I should consider?

Day 8. Spend the first part of the day (4 or 5 hours?) exploring Uxmal’s archaeological zone. Take a bus to Merida at about 2:30, and then take the next possible bus to Celestun. (Am I correct in understanding that I have a better chance of seeing flamingos in April in Celestun than in Rio Lagartos?) Spend the night in Celestun.

Day 9. Be ready, at about 10 a.m., to hire a boat—with others, if at all possible—to see the flamingos. (I’ve been reading and re-reading my guidebooks, and still cant figure out whether I should aim for the beach or the bridge. Help!) Afterwards, travel by bus to Merida and from there on to Campeche, were I will stay 2 nights.

Day 10. Explore Campeche’s fortifications, museums, and churches. If possible, enjoy Serenatas Campechanas during the evening.

Day 11. Leave Campeche for Xpujil at noon. If possible, visit the bat caves at dusk. Spend the first of 2 nights near Xpujil.

Day 12. Spend the day on a pre-arranged tour of Calakmul.

Day 13. Leave Xpujil for Palenque,where I will spend 2 nights. (I believe I would need to take a bus from Xpujil to Escarcega, from which I believe there is a bus to Palenque at 1 p.m. Is that correct?)

Day 14. Visit Palenque’s archeological zone. Later, if time permits, visit Misol Ha and/or Agua Azul. (I’ve read of rare, but occasional, “violent” attacks on tourists who have roamed away from the main areas near these waterfalls, so I assume I should either take a tour or hire a reputable taxi. Is that correct? Any suggestions?)

Day 15. If a Tuesday (as is likely), return to Palenque’s archeological zone to see the museum (which is, I believe, closed on Mondays). Return to Palenque in time to take the 2 p.m. bus (correct?) to San Cristobal de Las Casas, where I will spend 2 nights. (I’ve tentatively decided to skip Bonampak. It sounds a bit too hard to reach, given that the frescos there have apparently been damaged by weather and faulty preservation techniques. Too, I believe I’ll have a chance to see a reproduction of the frescos in Villahermosa. Does any of you strongly suggest that I reconsider going to Bonampak?)

Day 16. Explore San Cristobal de Las Casas, and take a mid-day tour of neighboring villages.

Day 17. Take the 11:20 bus (correct?) to Villahermosa, where I will spend 2 nights. (Under one possible scenario, this day would be May 1st—Labor Day. Will the bus run that day? And if the bus will run, should I make a point of trying to make this day the 1st so that I can enjoy the celebrations?)

Day 18. Explore Villahermosa, including its anthropology museum and the park/museum La Venta.

Day 19. Fly from Villahermosa to my home in the U.S.

Thanks so much in advance for your input—I know I can count on Fodorites for the very best advice!

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