Playa Del Carmen, México

Playa del Carmen is located in the Riviera Maya area on the Caribbean coast of Mexico and is around 60 km away from Cancun and Tulum.

We read that Playa, (as locals call it), it’s the fastest-growing city in Latin America, what is by itself a big no-no. As you already know, I don’t do package holidays and don’t normally choose places that don’t have anything to offer rather than tourist traps around every other corner. Plus I’m not into shopping or night clubs at all. So you are probably asking ‘why on earth have you decided to go there?’

Well that’s a good question, with a pretty easy answer, we just decided to pop in for a day because we had time in hands and had visit all the places we wanted, so we thought, well we are going to see what is all the fuss about…

As you can conclude for everything I just said my expectations were very very low, so the good point was I couldn’t really get despoiled.. and I didn’t, not even surprised 🙂 unfortunately..

To reach playa, we took a colectivo (45pesos) from Tulum, which is a very frequent route. Collectivos can get a bit cramped sometimes but are a great way to move around.

Playa del Carmen

During the day we walked around, went to some art galleries, found some murals, street sculptures and luckily stumble into a wonderful Mexican performance ‘Los voladores de Papantla’.

The 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida) is apparently the place to see and be seen. It is a very touristic place, packed with trinket shops and overpriced fancy restaurants… but who needs fancy? Leaving behind Playa’s tourist trail is the only way to go off the beaten path and find the real Mexican flavours, and avoid paying inflated tourist prices. Ask for local restaurants and you won’t regret it.

We also explored the beaches that are easily accessible by foot.

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I can’t say that we add a bad day, far from that,  was an enjoyable day out, but not more than that.

There is a big difference between travellers and tourists. Playa is undoubtedly a top tourist destination with big resorts, fancy restaurants and a busy nightlife. But the question is just one … can Playa offer want you are looking for? if yes go for it, if not choose a different place.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Xcacel Sanctuary, a piece of paradise in Mexico

Xcacel is a stunning turtle sanctuary and also home to an amazing cenote with nothing else nearby than nature.

From Tulum we caught the collectivo that goes in direction to Playa Del Carmen and left in Xcacel (30$ Mexican pesos). To enter and visit the park they ask only for a donation.

Xcacel tulum

The park is amazingly beautiful and very clean,  and if you go early in the morning is tranquil and very peaceful, away from Playa del Carmen or Tulum’s noise.

Xcacel turtle sanctuary

We went first to the cenote (X’cacelito), that is the most popular part of the park while was still empty, and was so so good, we spent hours in the water amazed with its beauty.

The Cenote is connected to the beach by a well kept sand road surrounded by jungle.
Later on we went for a walk through the path in the jungle parallel to the beach till the end of the park and walked back thought the beach.

cenote X'cacelito travel mexico

The north end doesn’t have sand just rocks, and it’s always calmer and good for snorkelling.

We didn’t spend much time on the beach, because there’s little shade, if you can take an umbrella with you 🙂 The sand is white and the water has different shades of blue, but since 2014 Mexico is facing problems with excessive seaweed (sargassum) washing ashore. For this reason the beach doesn’t have the ‘idyllic Caribbean look’.

Xcacel tulum beach

The park was full of signs alerting for turtle nests, from April to October, the turtles make their journey to nest along the Xcacel beach, please respect the signs.

Because the turtles lay their eggs down in this beach nobody is allowed to build resorts, hotels, palapas,  restaurants or something like that in this place.

Xcacel tulum beach
turtle nests signs

While time passes more people arrives and some tour vans, but it’s still a very quiet place by local standards.

Later in the day, we decided to go to the cenote again, but there was a big queue to go in. So try to go as early as possible and straight away to the cenote.

Bring your own beverages and food, be mindful of others, and pick up your trash in the end 🙂 they have some great shaded picnic area next to the beach, enroute to the Cenote.

We returned to Tulum by colectivo.  The park closes at 5 pm.

Tulum beach palm trees

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Cobá in Mexico

Cobá is an ancient Mayan city 44 km northwest of Tulum, and surprisingly bigger than the famous Chichen Itza.

Cobá is located in Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula, near TulumValladolid and Playa del Carmen, making it the perfect place to explore on a day trip from any of these places.

From Tulum there’s one bus to Cobá at ADOS (9:30 – 70MX$) it takes around 1 hour and is direct.

When we arrived this place took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting such an amazing and beautiful place, and for the fist time paths with shadows. Walking around was very pleasant. The place wasn’t crowded at all and we had most of the ruin set just for us. The emblematic Nohoch-Mul Pyramid with its 42-meters was the only place with some people, but still nothing extraordinary.

We paid 65 pesos admission fee and then we began exploring the ruins by foot, but that is up to you, you can choose to walk, hire a bici-taxi, or rent a bicycle. I just love to walk and this place is just amazing for that, imagine quiet paths through the peaceful, relaxed and natural environment of the surrounding jungle, and you are there. When you are walking you can observe more details, I could see mounds of rocks covered in vegetation, which were unexcavated ruins.

Only a small portion of Coba has been excavated and many of the structures remain hidden in the jungle.

If time is short I recommend renting a bike or bike taxi, as it is a much faster way to get around and see all of the structures, (regular bicycles- 45 pesos; two-person bicycle taxis – 190 pesos).

The Nohoch-Mul Pyramid is the tallest in Yucatan and unlike many other ruins in the peninsula, this one can be climbed 😊 and it really deserves the effort, the views are spectacular and breathtaking. From the top, you can see the surrounding jungle landscape and lush green tree-tops.  I could see the village of Coba and both lagoons, it’s important to take a minute here to admire the incredible views of the natural beauty around you.

Nohoch-Mul Pyramid Coba Tulum

There’s a thick rope in the middle of the stairs for safety, but climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up, so be careful. The stone steps were slippery from erosion and from people climbing them over the years.

There’s only one first-class bus back from Cobá at 3:10, and 2 second class after that.

You can also rent a bicycle at the entrance (~50MX$) to visit the 3 nearby underground cenotes not further than 8km. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with freshwater, found all over the Yucatan. The closest ones are the Choo-Ha with crystal blue water and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. The Tamcach-Ha is an underground cavern and the last one is called Multun-Ha. The entrance fee for each cenote is 55 pesos ($3 USD).

This cenotes are off the beaten tourist path and are a perfect place to visit for a refreshing swim in a magical and serene place after exploring the ruins.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Chichén Itzá Maya Ruins

We woke up at 7am, and we took the fist bus from Valladolid to Chichén Itzá (1h-  $31), I can’t recommend you this enough, It’s really essencial to arrive as earlier as possible. Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico’s most visited attraction, I don’t need to say much more than that..  do I 🙂

Chichén Itzá is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so independently of what kind of traveller you are;  solo travel, backpacker, all-inclusive, etc. you will end up there like everybody else.. Chichén Itzá is an icon and its central location in the peninsula of Yucatan, makes it incredible accessible. And don’t think that because is the largest archeological site in Yucatan you can’t fell the heaps of people, believe me..  this place gets seriously overcrowded, and you can feel it 🙂

Although I generally tend to prefer exploring lesser-visited places that are situated a little further off the main tourist path, Chichen Itza still makes a perfect day or half-day trip. I can’s say they are my favourite but the still are magnificent and definitely worthy of a visit.

Despite the fact that all inclusive trips to Chichén Itzá are very popular and abundant, It couldn’t  be easier to visit it on your own, and I do recommend it, first because you can walk and stop as many time you want and where you want, its cheaper, and you can get there before the crowds.

When you arrive early you beat the crazily large crowds, tour buses and the hundreds of vendors that are selling the same thing along every pathway. Waking up early will pay off, and you will have almost the entire ruins to yourselves.

If you end up visiting Chichén Itzá, I’m sure you will not be let down, they make a fantastic introduction into Maya culture and beliefs! It’s always better to have a guidebook with you so you know what you are looking at 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Izamal, the yellow town

Its easy to reach Izamal from Mérida by bus. You catch the bus from the northeast bus terminal and is 1 1/2 hour to Izamal (27$). Izamal is about 70 km east of Merida.

This small town is incredible beautiful, and looks like a magic movie set, it’s picturesque and known for obvious reasons by ‘The Yellow Town’ because most of its buildings are painted in a beautiful and eye-catching mustard yellow colour.

The impressive franciscan monastery stands out in the heart of this yellow town. It houses a museum and a church. In front of the monastery they have horses dressed in ridiculous floral hats pull carriages of tourists around the town.

Walking around town by foot getting lost and discovering it’s cobblestone streets it’s very pleasant. It’s also possible to visit by foot the archaeological sites.

Kinch Kak moo, is a small site that has a Mayan pyramid that you can climb and enjoy the view from the top over the city, the pyramid it might not be as big, well preserved or stunning as Chichén Itzá but is still very impressive.

The ‘centro cultural y artesanal‘ (cultural and Artesanal centre) it’s a small museum that displays a selection of outstanding examples of folk art from across Mexico. The pieces are truly beautiful and colourful.

The local market near the monastery is a good place to eat traditional Yucatan food.

There’s not much more to see and do in this town, and that is also part of it’s charm. I would say that Izamal is a  mandatory stop when visiting Yucatan, even if only for a day,  Izamal is simply enchanting!

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Colourful Mérida – México

Merida is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan on the north of the Yucatan peninsula, and just 4 hours and 1/2 by bus from Cancun.

When we arrived we were received with a traditional crafts fair in the main plaza with dance and live concerts. Despite the food stalls being very disappointing the festive vibe and atmosphere around the Plaza Grand was amazing. This plaza deserves a visit specially on Sundays when the city centre is closed to traffic until early afternoon.

Around Plaza Grand you can visit the Casa Montejo (a free museum with a permanent exhibition of victorian, neorococo and neorenaissance furnishings),  Olimpo cultura center, municipal Palace, the government palace, Cathedral de San Ildefonso (the oldest Cathedral in all of Americas) and the museum of contemporary art. So there’s lots to do and visit around just this central square. The whole square is really cool at night and there is even a video projection onto the cathedral.

There are 2 Tourist Information posts in opposite sides of the Plaza Grand, they organize two free walking  tours around the central square. One in the morning (9.30) and another in the evening (6pm). They give a great inside about the monuments around the central square, Yucatan history and Maya traditions.

Merida has lots of great options to eat, even if you have a plant based diet. There are more authentic Mexican places to very fancy restaurants. The Quesadillas, the Sopes and the vegan tacos are a must, Yucatan food is delicious and  there’s a very large selection of dishes to choose from and many vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants.

And as I always do I went to have a look at the food markets. Merida has a couple selling local fruits and veggies. My favourites were the Mercado Lucas De Galvéz (Merida’s central food market) and  the Mercado Santa Ana. If you are in Mérida during a Saturday (9am-1pm) or Wednesday (6pm-9pm) don’t miss the organic Slow Food Market.

Calle 60 is the main  touristic street, it leads north from the main square passing by lots of interesting places like the Parque Hidalgo, Parque de SantiagoTeatro Peón Conteras, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán and Parque de Santa Lucía.

Another famous street is the Paseo Montejo, which was the local attempt to create a modern boulevard. There are some nice houses monuments lining the Paseo.

Merida is beautiful, colourful  and also an excellent point from where you can explore part of the state of Yucatan, which offers several archaeological sites, cenotes, caves, flamingos, and nice beaches.

Merida has an excellent location, and is great place to stay and take different day trips to places like Uxmal, Cuzamá or Izamal.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Adventures through the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

Mexico was the firsts country I have visited in the American continent, and couldn’t be asking for anything better, Mexico was an amazing surprise.

The picture below shows the rota I did over the 16 days I spent there.

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✈️ Cancun    Mérida

Mérida Uxmal

Mérida  Cuzamá

Mérida Izamal

Izamal  Valladolid

Valladolid Chichén Itzá

Valladolid   Tulum

Tulum Cobá

Tulum Natural Park Aktun Chen

Tulum Kaan Luum Lagoon Kaan

Tulum Playa del Carmen

Tulum Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos  Cenote Verde Lucero

Puerto Morelos Cancun ✈️

* The double sided arrow ⇠⇢ means  that I went to that place just for the day *

With time, I will be posting about all those places. Meanwhile if you are traveling soon to the yucatan peninsula and you have any questions, just shout, and I will do my best to share same tips and my personal experience.

Hope you can keep reading and following my adventures 🙏 Cheers Ana xx

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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