We leave the salty sea for the inland jungle on the second leg of our trip to Mexico. Like the first part of our trip, we will continue to see Mayan ruins, but we will also see the cities of Merida and Campeche. The highlight is a camping experience outside the nearly-secret spectacular ruins of Calakmul.
Day 6 – Merida: The capital of the Yucatan and its largest city is supposed to be a lively and enjoyable place. We arranged to be there on Saturday night and Sunday, during which festivals, dancing, markets and town-square activities abound. At least, we hope that’s true on the days after Christmas. The oldest church on the North American Continent is here, as well as a decent museum and a lot of beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture.
We’ll most likely be at the Hyatt, because they have a reliable pool and internet access but the day will be mostly outdoors with no driving. Everyone will want a break by this point. Merida has some good Yucatan cuisine – a little different than traditional Mexican.
Day 7 – Cuzama and Uxmal: We leave Merida rested (hopefully) and begin the strenuous part of our trip. Driving south, we go to the Cuzama Cenotes, a series of cave lagoons across a six mile stretch of an old sisal and hemp plantation. One is driven to each of three cenotes along a single track with a horse drawn buggy. Aside from the horseflies and some reports of unhealthy animals, this should be an adventure. Trip advisor reports rickety wooden ladders and carts toppling off the tracks. This should be an adventure!
We head West to Uxmal that afternoon, in time for the light show. The major ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal both have evening light shows included in the ticket price, and travellers report you can attend the light show the evening before your daytime visit. We’ll emply that tactic here. We hope for a better light show than Temple Karnak in Luxor, but we won’t get our hopes up.
Day 8 – Uxmal: The ruins of Uxmal are reported to be particularly beautiful, but that could be hype. Nonetheless, it’s a well excavated site, and the Pyramid of the Magician (left) is stunning. Unfortunately, like Chichen Itza, travellers report that one can no longer climb up the tallest pyramids. (We’ll do that in Calkmul in a few days.)
In the evening, we drive to the gulf coast city of Campeche and spend the night.
Day 9: Campeche: We are undecided about this day. Campeche is reported to be a lovely city, but it’s not particularly tourist friendly and there are not many attractions. It could be a dud. But it has enough to do that we can probably fill a day. We might need the ‘spare’ day to catch up if our itinerary doesn’t go as planned (or we find something else awesome to do.) Plus, the next day is a long drive folowwed by our jungle excursion.
Highlights of Campeche are few, except that it is the oldest walled city in North America. It was a major port and had two seaside forts for it’s defense. Both are now museums. There is a period-decorated home inconspicuously called Casa No. 6. There are promising references to a Pirate ship tour and a cave.
This is the longest drive of the trip, 4-5 hours south and back east toward the cost. But we won’t see any beach for days as we head deeper and deeper into the jungle that covers the state of Campeche and extends south through Guatemala. 40 minutes from the nearest town, and 3 hours from the closest ATM we will turn the car left at the snarling dog, right before the felled palm tree to our campsite on the grounds of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. The campsite has no website or phone, just an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). But they are briefly mentioned in both guidebooks and some web research turns up good stories about the experience. The cost is about $40/night including tents and sleeping bags. No staying up for New Year’s Eve – we start early in the morning.
If we slept comfortably enough, this will be a memorable day. At 5:30 am, we get up and head toward the ruins of Calakmul. The ruins don’t open till 8am, but guards can be bribed. The real attraction is the wildlife, most active early in the AM. The ruins themselves, are huge and barely excavated. Far from the manicured Disney of Chichen Itza, our day in Calakmul will be unforgettable. If we can’t handle a second night in tents, we might be able to stay in the nearby ‘eco-lodge‘.
Next: The final leg of the trip, crawling up the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan.