Laguna Kaan Luum, an oasis in the jungle

Has you know Tulum is famous for its Beaches, Ruins and Cenotes, but there is more than meets the eye. In this region is possible and easy to go off the beaten track, and avoid crowded, noisy, and expensive places.One of those place is just 8km south of Tulum, a lake called Laguna Kaan Luum.Unfortunately is not the easiest place to reach if you don’t have your own tranpost, but it’s possible. You need to catch a colectivo from Tulum in direction to Felipe Carrillo but not many collectivo’s head south so you need to be patient an wait.The colectivo will go past the main entrance and you can walk from there 500 meters through the jungle to a little shack where you by the ticket/bracelet (50$Mexican pesos).

As we always do, we went early in the morning and the place was practically empty. The area is totally undeveloped, with just a thatched hut, and a wooden jetty leading into the water.

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There is no beach or grassy area to lay on so plan on putting your stuff on the dock and jumping in, because can be a bit muddy around.

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There is one dock that jets out in to the lagoon’s beautiful greeny turquoise coloured water where you can see small fishes swimming around.

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The other wooden walkway  leads to a palapa building. That’s the only place with a good the seat down, relax and have a picnic, If you plan to stay longer you need to bring your own food and drinks.DSC01022

In the center of the lake there is a darker area, that is a deep cenote, off limits for swimmers. The cenote is 85 meters (262ft) deep. You can tell the color contrast between the center of the lagoon and the sides. If you are a scuba diver you are allowed to go in the cenote area, and it’s 150 pesos. The lake itself  is surrounded on all sides by jungle and mangroves, and the water is fairly clear with a slight green turquoise color.

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We spent a few hours, jumping, swimming and having fun in the water, that is knee to shoulder depth.

 

 

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Around 12:00 the place started to receive more people, and for what some locals told us this is a very popular place during weekends. So if you prefer a more relaxed and quiet atmosphere try to visit the lake during the week.

It’s harder to get a colectivo back toward Tulum, but you have always the option of hitch-hiking.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 CobĂĄ in Mexico

Cobå 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 Tulum, Valladolid 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 CobĂĄ 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 CobĂĄ 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

Tulum Private & Public beaches

If you’re backpacking or traveling on a budget it’s probable that you’ll stay in town 3 miles from the beach… What is absolutely fine, first there’s cheaper accommodation in town, lots of shops, restaurantes, bars, supermarkets, markets, banks, pharmacies, etc. so not that bad at all, plus renting a bike is easy and cheap 🙂

Lots of places in town rent bicycles and it’s a great way to move around. Going to the beach it’s quite easy, from town you go always straight through a cycling path, till you reach a roundabout, where  the police station is located. If you head right (north) you have the public beaches plus the ruins at the end.

Bare in mind that most visitors remain on the beaches located right in front of the Tulum Ruins, so move further south and you will find some pristine beaches.

At least from my experience this side has the nicest stretch of beach in all of Tulum, because they are bigger, the water was cristal clean and the sand white, in position of the few public beaches that you can find in between the hotels in the south stretch that are tiny, difficult to find and unlucky were full of seaweed.

If you head left (south) you have 10 miles of private beaches called ‘zona hoteleira‘ (hotel zone) there are a few public beaches in between the private ones, but they are super small. To be true this area is hotel after hotel after hotel, what is actually a bit overwhelming. The beaches are ok but unfortunately there was heaps of seaweed that had just washed in a couple of days ago.

You also have the option of ‘using’ the beach of one of the hotels, some charge a fee in order to access the beach or is mandatory to have  drink or a meal at their restaurant. If you are looking for some extra-confort this ones are definitely the best option, because you can use the sun beds and umbrellas.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Tulum, Ruins and Beach

Tulum itself is nothing special, but it’s brilliantly well located, and there is plenty to see and do around.

Tulum has great places to eat and sleep. But is quite touristic and the main streets are packed with restaurants, souvenir shops, bars and cafes. Still nothing like Cancun at all, but is still a holiday destination. Plus is easily reachable from Cancun for day trippers, which keeps the place busy and the prices up.

My first recommendation is to rent a bike, so you can visit the closest sights yourself. Renting a bicycle costs around 80MX$ ($4.50). If you’re backpacking, chances are you’re staying in a hostel in town 3 miles from the hotels near the beach. Tulum is flat, and cycling is a great way to move around.

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We cycle to the Tulum Ruins (70MX$), and they truly are something special, mostly because of it’s location right next to gorgeous turquoise-blue waters. The combination of the coast line,  palm trees and ruins is just amazing. So is not much for the ruins itself, that are quite modest scale and not as beautifully designed as others but it’s location.

The two entrances to the ‘city’ (ruins)  are small tunnels cut into the wall.  The three major structures of interest here are El Castillo, The Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God.

We strolled through the ruins without a guide, but we had a guidebook to take us through the history. We went early in the morning to avoid the tours.

The two surrounded tiny beaches are amazing but just as scenery … personally a tiny crowded beach is not my cup of tea. While I don’t recommend going to the beach I do highly recommend comfortable shoes, water, hat and plenty of sun cream because there’s no shades.

To complete the day we cycled back from the ruins and visited a couple of public beaches, they were all amazing but no shadows.

2014-02-05 22.27.46 photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Chichén Itzå Maya Ruins

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

ChichĂ©n ItzĂĄ 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.. ChichĂ©n Itzå 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 ChichĂ©n Itzå 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 ChichĂ©n ItzĂĄ, 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 Itzå 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

The Three Cuzama Cenotes

The YucatĂĄn Peninsula has literally hundreds of cenotes that are fed by subterranean rivers, these natural pools are incredible beautiful, and theres something mysterious and enchanted about the light and colours they have.

The Cenotes of ChunkamĂĄn were the first ones we visited, and we couldn’t really ask for anything more beautiful and peaceful. From MĂ©rida to the small village of ChunkamĂĄn is an hour trip by bus.

Where the bus stops there are a couple of tuk-tuks waiting, they charge 10 pesos to go to the cenotes area to locals, but they will ask more to tourists. You have two options, negotiate the price, or walk (+-3km). We chose the last options, because the day wasn’t to hot and we love to walk.

The admission fee is 400 pesos ($22) for 1 to 4 people (non-negotiable) and believe me, we tried :). We arrived very early in the morning (around 8) and the place was absolutely empty.  We were the first visitors that day, so we had the canotes just for ourselves. It was amazing to explore and swim with no one else there, BUT…. to reach the cenotes your only option is going by horse-drawn railcart,  along an old railway track. This is an huge negative point about this place, the poor horses look rough, and very thin, they don’t give them any water during the journey, some have visible injuries, diseases and open bleeding wounds 🙁 it’s truly a shame and I rather much prefer to go to a place that doesn’t use or mistreat animals.

Unfortunately I didn’t know that before hand, otherwise I would go to a different one, and there are plenty to choose from, you don’t really need to finance any business that have abusive behaviour towards animals.

And again don’t get me wrong the cenotes are amazing, but please don’t make the same mistake as we did and just choose a different one, until they  change their ways, and again there are literally hundreds  of cenotes throughout Yucatan, all different but equally beautiful in their very unique manner.

The path to the cenotes is surrounded by dense vegetation and had thousands of colourful butterflies flying around.  The 3 cenotes are the Cenote Bolonchojol, Cenote ChelentĂșn, and Cenote ChacsinicchĂ©.2017-07-25 11.21.09.jpg

The first stop was at the smallest but very picturesque Cenote, the Bolonchojol. To go in, you enter through a very small hole in the ground, once inside you discover an amazing cave with a small area with crystalline and refreshingly cool water.

The other two cenotes are bigger and have ropes-like roots descending with the light. The Cenote ChelentĂșn has a long wooden ladder to a a concrete platform. The water is deep blue and has a fantastic light, this was my favourite one.

The last one, the Cenote Chacsinicché has a  mirador with a 15 metre drop down into the water.

To accesses this one theres metal steps. This was by far my least first wasn’t empty and because this is the more accessible one, some people don’t end up going to the others. And unfortunately there was lots of jumping going on, shouting and screaming.. as a teacher I get that all year round..and I like peace and quiet 🙂

The visit takes around 3 hours, and  you will get 30 minutes to swim at each of the cenotes.

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Cenote ChelentĂșn 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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The Mayan city of Uxmal

Uxmal its a great day trip from Merida, and its easy to reach by bus, about an hour drive south of the city.

Uxmal is the biggest  architectural site of Mayan Ruins in Yucatan.The entrance ticket is 203 pesos (11$), and  is open  from 8am until 5pm.

The complex at Uxmal is  less commercial and popular  than Chichen Itza, and is an UNESCO site. Uxmal was constructed around 700AD so it’s older than Chichen Itza. If you plan your visit early in the morning, it’s not crowded at all.

Having a guide helps to understand and contextualise what you are seeing. The Ruins are beautiful and imposing.  This place truly deserves a visit.

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We truly found the Mayan city of Uxmal amazing despite the fact that we end up in the hospital urgencies later that day 😼, nothing serious, just another experience 🙂

After climbing one of the pyramids, I saw a stream of blood on my partner’s leg.. it was already dry but you could still see two tiny holes. He didn’t feel anything, and didn’t have any pain, and because the blood was already dry when we saw it, we just thought “can’t be to poisonous….”, so we just carried on enjoying the ruins.

Later after dinner his leg was very swollen and the place where he was  bitten was getting  very infected, so we took a bus to the public hospital. Everybody was nice and helpful despite our little Spanish. The doctor couldn’t tell which animal had bitted him and gave him some pills, and luckily he got better.

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if you zoom the picture you can see his legÂ đŸ€•, at this point we had not yet noticed the blood 😊

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Colourful MĂ©rida – MĂ©xico

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 GalvĂ©z (Merida’s central food market) and  the Mercado Santa Ana. If you are in MĂ©rida 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 Santiago, Teatro Peón Conteras, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatån 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, Cuzamå or Izamal.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha