Merida, ruins, hacienda & towns with great guide

Old Feb 22nd, 2024, 01:04 PM
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Merida, ruins, hacienda & towns with great guide

We finally made it to Yucatan. I've long wanted to visit Mayan sites but my husband has had some unhappy experiences traveling to Mexico for work so it wasn't a top vacation destination for him. Flight routes/schedules determined we would fly to CUN. We considered splitting our time around Cancun and Merida, but the trip ended up being only 5 days, so we opted to spend all nights in Merida. We didn't want to drive, so ADO bus or a driver were the options (rail looked too uncertain still).
After some research, we deviated from our usual independent travel and hired a private tour guide for 4 of our 5 days who would drive + guide us anywhere we wanted to go. It was great!

I found our guide, Raul, under Merida on Toursbylocals. I had never used the site. I think the only other times we used tour guides for multiple days were in China (arranged by a travel agent), Cambodia (referral from an archeology professor), and my solo trip to Rio (found through referrals on Fodors or Travelocity). I emailed with a few guides listed on the site and immediately could tell Raul was the man--professional, almost 20 years experience, education oriented, fluent in English/Spanish/French--with great suggestions and options. I cannot recommend him highly enough. Although we could have hired just a driver or used buses and guidebooks, we got much more out of our trip this way with lots of information on local history, culture, food, politics, nature, you name it. I told him my interest in a combination of ruins, local culture, colonial architecture, and sisal industry with my planned destinations and he suggested some tweaks.

We were aware of luggage delays at CUN so did carryon, moving smoothly through the airport terminal 3 but line at women's restroom at baggage claim--no line just outside customs--lesson learned. The touts were there trying to scoop us up for their taxis, but Raul was waiting. Check-in for return was easy but the departure gates and surrounding restaurants packed--no one in restaurants before security--lesson learned if at airport early like we were.

We visited some of the Puuc Route--Uxmal, Kabah, and Sayil--and enjoyed all three sites. Uxmal was impressive in overall scale; Kabah with the palace and arch; Sayil palace and we also walked through the woods to unrestored sites and learned about some of the trees. There were only a few other people at Kabah and we were alone at Sayil so we would walk, climb, talk, photograph to our hearts' content with Raul accommodating our level of interest and heat tolerance. We originally didn't plan to go to Chichen Itza because of the crowds and vendors, but my niece the archeologist said we should see it once if only briefly. So we worked with Raul to plan an 8:05 arrival, he purchased the two tickets for us at the guide window, and we were touring by 8:15. We left at 10:00 when the bus crowds from Cancun created a solid wall of people on the entry path and vehicles were lined up well past the lot waiting to enter. We didn't have a problem with the vendors but Raul told us that a new visitors center and vendor area is under construction so all the vendors are supposed to move there when it opens. The entry route will change to come by the cenote. We were glad we visited CI. No crowds at 8:15 so only a few people at the pyramid, no one in the ball court, etc. We could see and discuss every detail without anyone blocking us or having to listen to other guides.

We spent a day on our own in Merida--walking to the plaza to see the cathedral, casa Montejo and murals, along calle 47 and many others to see painted houses, along Paseo de Montejo to see the mansions and Monument of the Homelands. Took an uber to and taxi from the Museo de Maya Mundo, which we enjoyed to learn more before we headed to the ruins. Everyone was nice and helpful. We felt safe and relaxed except when trying to cross the street in places. We stopped in Valladolid on arrival day for lunch and to see the colonial architecture. It was an enjoyable walk, interesting murals, and great food, but I think I was expecting to be wowed more by the city. We also visited Izamal for the architecture and the pyramids incorporated into the town. Interesting how they are integrated. I didn't realize they painted the building yellow for the Pope's visit. Uayma for a short stop to see the church. (I chose all these cities.) Along the routes we drove through many small towns and Raul was quick to stop if we wanted to look more closely at a thatch roofed house, local transport, fruit trees, a church, whatever. We visited a pottery artist's workshop in Muna and a sisal workshop to see mostly chandeliers being made at Raul's suggestion. No buying required.

For sisal, Raul scheduled us for the tour at Hacienda Peon de Sotuta. We love industrial tours so we found it very educational seeing the traditional method of extracting and processing the fiber along with the modern method and machinery. The guide was a little cheesy but OK. The truck ride pulled by mules was touristy but also the way they traditionally moved materials and people. Raul thought we should see a cenote even if we didn't want to swim because they are so important to the Yucatan and the cenote is included on the tour. I was underwhelmed and enjoyed seeing the open cenote at CI as much if not more than the cave cenote at the hacienda.

We tried to eat as many Maya Yucatan foods as we could find and enjoyed them all. We ate in restaurants in the cities and tourist sites, drank bottled water, and felt fine. We could use a credit card in all but the smallest sites and shops but it was easy to find an ATM on our first day for some cash, then spend some to break down the bills. Only once had a toilet without paper but most at the sites no toilet seat. Plenty of soap and hand sanitizer around. Sun/heat was brutal so we covered up, put on hats and sunscreen but still didn't drink enough water on our day walking in Merida--slow to adjust from cold winter at home. Saw a bad sunburn on a scantily clad fellow at Uxmal .

I hope some of this is helpful to anyone headed to the Merida area. I don't usually include photos, so I hope this works.
I expect we will head back next year to catch the places we missed this trip, including the coasts and more ruins.

Kay2 is offline  
Old Feb 23rd, 2024, 03:08 PM
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Thanks. Hope to get there next year.
maitaitom is online now  
Old Feb 24th, 2024, 04:09 AM
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Thank you KayF! I have been struggling with planning our next trip to Mexico when we will be spending 10 days in Merida and the Yucatan so your report is very helpful. If I may ask, where did your stay in Merida?
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 08:06 AM
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Hi Crellston,
We stayed at Hotel Victoria, although I would not recommend it.

Location--We really liked Paseo de Montejo--shady wide sidewalks, old mansions. But we were at the north end and I think there are more restaurants and shops toward the south end closer to the centro and parques that have evening events. We did visit the Walmart at Montejo/calle 33/Perez Ponce roundabout open 7am-11pm several times, so that was convenient.

Type--The options were full service hotel, limited service boutique hotel in converted large old houses, or various AirBnBs. We often stay in AirBnBs or apartments so we can cook at least breakfast but this time we thought since we were totally unfamiliar with Mexico, we would opt for 24-hour hotel with restaurant. We did ask front desk staff questions and we did change rooms so a larger hotel was good for that. The air conditioning and plumbing/hot water were reliable. We were tired one evenings so nice to have option of on-site restaurant. I chose a hotel with refrigerator and coffeemaker for breakfast and maybe evening snacks instead of dinner, but the coffeemaker only heated lukewarm so a waste, but the frig held our fruit and other foods from Walmart. The hotel restaurant opened at 7 but didn't serve food until 7:30, so not early enough for our 6:30 departure one day and rushed for our 7:45-8:00 departures. We even went to McD's one morning for 7 am coffee (next day it wasn't open on time). Places we never shop/eat in the US So next time I will more closely consider our schedule versus the breakfast/coffee options. Raul said the opening late or open but not serving breakfast for a half hour is common. Having run a restaurant and one of the boutique hotels in the past, he doesn't understand why they do it.

Kay2 is offline  
Old Mar 28th, 2024, 11:33 AM
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Crellston mi amigo! We are going to the Yucatan for the month of January 2025. When are you thinking of going?
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Old Mar 29th, 2024, 12:57 AM
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Hi Tdiddy. Our current plan is to spend a month in Mexico from mid October to mid Nov with the last two weeks in the Yucatan. Flights are all booked but I have done little else as there is a possibility that we may have to cancel, or at least postpone. Won’t really know for certain until June. If we postpone, rather than cancel, then it may well be Some time in January or February. Will let you know. If we do end up there in January, it would be great to meet up!
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Old Mar 30th, 2024, 09:28 AM
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LOVE the photos. Thanks for taking the time to share your trip.
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Old Apr 1st, 2024, 04:59 AM
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Excellent report. Early coffee is often an issue for caffeine addicts when you leave early, especially common on birding tours.

The guides usually know where to get some or can bring a thermos from home. Worth discussing ahead of time!

Last edited by mlgb; Apr 1st, 2024 at 05:14 AM.
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