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kja Jan 7th, 2008 05:34 PM

Please help me plan a trip to the Yucatan!
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!

colokid Jan 8th, 2008 03:33 AM

That sounds like a trip I'd like to take! I'm not sure of your bus times, etc. but the trip to Ek Balam and Samula cenote is well worth the time. I would take a good spanish/english dictionary as that will help out especially away from the coast. Public transportation is the way to go with the amount of traveling you are planning...cost effective and gives you some down time. Please let us know how this goes and if you make any changes.

Fra_Diavolo Jan 8th, 2008 08:22 AM

Agree -- some trip!

Can't help with all of it, but:

While in Tulum, you might want to make a side trip to Coba, a larger Mayan city set in the forest.

Ek Balam is not to be missed, but I don't think you'll need four hours to see it (more like two). Possibly use a taxi rather than bus?

You don't want to make more than one trip between Merida and Uxmal which are about 90 minutes apart. Your best option might be two nights in Uxmal, since you are arriving late. (I found the light show a little hokey, though the lighting effects on some of the distant monuments were interesting.) You can arrange for a driver at one of the hotels to visit the Puuc cities and the caves.

Wish I could offer advice on some of the other legs of your journey, but they are outside of my experience. Look forward to hearing about your trip.

kja Jan 8th, 2008 02:42 PM

Hi, colokid and Fra_Diavolo -

Thanks so much for your replies! It is heartening to think that neither of you saw any "fatal flaws" in my plans!

Colokid: I will definitely take a small Spanish/English dictionary that served me well several years ago in Spain. And one of the things I love about public transportation is that it does allow some down time - it can be really pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Fra_Diavolo: I will give more thought to visiting Coba. I've been thinking that I might want to add a day in Tulum, and if I do, I'm sure I would enjoy seeing Coba. It's also very helpful to know that I might not need as much time as I thought to see Ek' Balam. I'll check into taxi options and/or drivers for both Ek' Balam and Uxmal. It doesn't surprise me to think that the sound and light show at Uxmal might be a bit hokey - but I think I'd regret not seeing it. Is the one at Chichen Itza any better?

Any other suggestions or comments?

YucatanToday Jan 8th, 2008 03:31 PM

Sounds like a fantastic, if a little hectic, trip! You might think about going to Chichen Itza from Valladolid, then continuing on to Izamal. For the Ruta Puuc, it might be worth a splurge to rent a car for a day or two so you can see everything you want on your own schedule.

kja Jan 8th, 2008 03:54 PM

Hi, YucatanToday -

I had wondered about whether to go to Chichen Itza before Izamal. One of my guidebooks said I would need to take a bus from Chichen Itza to Hoctun, and then switch to a bus to Izamal. I wasn't sure how often the buses run in the evening (after Chichen Itza closes). Do you know, or do you know how I can find out?


pepper131 Jan 8th, 2008 07:18 PM

For Tulum - stay in town if you definately are looking to be closer to cheaper eats and convenience to buses.

But I'd feel just as safe on the beach in Tulum. Tita Tulum usually has great low season rates. Cabanas Tulum is the best budget minded place on the beach. Since a lot of your travel is inland, it might be nice to stay on the beach.

colokid Jan 8th, 2008 07:29 PM

I wouldn't feel unsafe at the beach in Tulum either. Coba is an amazing place as well. They all offer something different.

kja Jan 9th, 2008 09:29 AM

Hi, pepper131 and colokid -

Thanks for the reassurance about staying on the beach in Tulum - it does sound really special, and I would like to make that part of my experience if possible! And thanks for suggesting some affordable options - I'll check them out!

I am so excited about this trip!

YucatanToday Jan 9th, 2008 05:15 PM

I'm not sure about the exact bus schedules - and they do change them from time to time. I would recommend making your decision once you get to Valladolid. They are very helpful in the bus station, or you're hotel could help you.

kja Jan 10th, 2008 03:20 PM

Thanks again, YucatanToday!

Any other comments or advice from all you wonderful Fodorites?

dar Jan 18th, 2008 07:22 PM

I got tired just reading the details.
How about slowing down a bit and getting to know some of the locals?

kja Jan 19th, 2008 11:48 AM

Hi, dar. Sorry to have exhausted you! I appreciate your input, but must admit that I've never travelled to relax and I'm really looking for some time alone to see things that I've always wanted to see. I hope you'll agree that it is wonderful that we can all tailor our travels to our own preferences.

dar Jan 20th, 2008 09:29 PM

So true. I used to travel like that and envy your energy! Enjoy it while you can, when you are old like me, you'll appreciate the relax part!

Mincepie Jan 23rd, 2008 11:09 AM

just returned from a little bleary eyed and sad at the moment!

Agua Azul and Misol Ha seemed very safe to us.

Being a late riser, you might find yourself with the tour bus crowd at the big sites.

I'll answer the other questions later when my head is clear!

kja Jan 24th, 2008 08:28 AM

Thanks, Mincepie! I'll look forward to hearing more about your trip when you have gotten some rest.

Hoyas Jan 24th, 2008 09:44 AM

Nice trip. Since you want to travel so much, can you rent a car at the cancun airport? Driving there is easy. We spent 1 night in Puerto Morelos, and our route took us to Tulum (stay on the beach, lots of safe choices)then to Coba (rent a bike to get around) to Valladolid (authentic)to Merida (festive, stay within walking distance of the square) to Uxmal and then we took the car to Cozumel, the back side of the island was remote and calm)

kja Jan 24th, 2008 10:28 AM

Hi, Hoyas -

I'm glad you think my plans sound good - especially since it seems you visited some of the same places!

At this point, I'm pretty sure I'll rent a car for the Ruta Puuc, but am still hoping to use buses for the rest of my trip. As a solo traveler, I find it a bit difficult and stressful to drive and navigate at the same time on strange roads. In contrast, I like to sit back on buses and enjoy the scenery.

BTW, in light of the helpful comments I received to this post, I revised my itinerary a bit (e.g., to include 2 nights along the beach in Tulum) and posted it under a different title, "Revised plan - the Yucatan peninsula, Chiapas, and a dash of Tabasco." As responses to that post show, that plan has also been revised a bit: For example, I'm going to skip Villahermosa. I now have my airline tickets, but am still fine-tuning, so comments remain welcome!


Mincepie Jan 24th, 2008 10:59 AM

Kja I hope you have a wonderful trip. We found Mexico to be much safer than we had been told. I think I am older than you, but would have no fear about travelling alone. Palenque was by far my favourite site. We visited early in the morning and it was shrouded in mist..being at the edge of the tropical forest with the sound of the monkeys growling makes it even more mysterious.
We found the food OK but mediocre...with a few really good meals.
3 -4 hours is plenty of time to see Chichen Itza..especially in the heat if the day.
Just my opinion..but I never think sound and lught shows are worth the money.
Mexico is wonderful...learn a little will be much appreciated. Good luck.

kja Jan 24th, 2008 12:04 PM

Hi again, Mincepie -

Your experience in Palenque sounds magical! Thanks for sharing it. And speaking of sharing - care to say where you had those few really good meals?

The sound and light show is definitely a low priority for me. I must admit that I don't expect to particularly enjoy it, but I can't imagine not checking it out, if for no other reason than to see the site as the sun sets. As I understand it, the price is already included in admission to the site, so why not? But definitely best to go with low expectations for it!

I'm glad to know that you felt safer than you'd been led to expect. My only concerns had been about the beach in Tulum and near Agua Azul and Misol Ha. You and others have done a great deal to reassure me that I should be fine. My overwhelming impression is that I will encounter many warm, welcoming, and charming people, especially if I make the effort to speak a little Spanish (which I will). I've already been really impressed with the kindness and helpfulness of some of the hotel staff I've contacted.

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