The road trip from Bacalar to Celestun was my first trip after I left my glamorous job for the sake of freedom and nomadic life. I emptied the house and left the key inside for the owner to collect. It was a rainy day, and I took it as a sort of baptism for the new life to come, like a blessing. And it worked, so far.
Behind that door I left my nest, my shelter where I used to spend the majority of my free time planning, dreaming and creating my future. With it, I also left all my fears that had persuaded me to postpone my trip until I would have been ready. And I was! Oh dear, if I was! For the occasion, I had planned a road trip to Bacalar with a couple of friends and then I would have continued on my own exploring that part of Quintana Roo that it was still unknown to me.
It turned out to be an amazing adventure so much so that I had postponed my flight to Italy for 1 week.
I have discovered new interesting places that I didn’t know of before, meet fantastic people and found that kind of happiness that I was looking for. I will be writing the specific post of each place that was worth mentioning and visiting.
Here is a photographic overview of the highlight of my trip hoping that you will enjoy it and maybe one day it will become handy if you wish to take the same road…
I enjoyed exploring Bacalar and the surrounding area so much. It inspired me to write a full guide to Bacalar, which include all the things to do where to stay, eat, and explore Bacalar and the surroundings.
MAHAHUAL AND XCALAC
From Bacalar, I went to check out Mahahual and Xcalac and then back again towards Bacalar with one stop to the archaeological site of Chacchoben. It’s situated only 30 minutes from Bacalar and definitely worth a visit if you are around. I wasn’t really impressed by Mahahual as it was very windy and I found it quite dirty. However, if you are into diving and snorkeling, this is a great location for you. If the weather allows, they have many diving spots, and you can snorkel around to reef right off the shore.
Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!
Xcalac is even more remote, but I like it better. It’s a real beach town, with absolutely nothing—just the beach, not the best beach and tranquillity. If you like an escape and live a beach life and you have a budget to spend on snorkeling and diving, that’s the place for you.
Then again, I passed Bacalar in Chetumal’s direction on route 307 and turned into 186 towards Escarcega/ Campeche. I wanted to stop in the Calakmul area for a while. I knew there would have been so much to see, but I didn’t imagine THAT much, so I ended up staying 1 whole week. Here is what I found.
Right before the border with the region of Campeche, you will find 3 important archaeological sites, and if you are a Mayan history freak like me, you will love to stop in each one of them.
Dzibanchen and Kinichna are together. You will need to take a deviation from the main road 186 and drive for about 30 minutes. There are signs on the road so you cannot get lost, by the way. You will pay one entry of 50 pesos at the first one, Dzibanchen, and it’s valid for both.
The last one I encounter on that day was Kohunlich but it was too late for that one so I found a lovely and cheap place for the night, and couldn’t wait for the next day and my visit! I was ecstatic. I have even written a full post on how to visit the spectacular site of Kohunlich.
After that, I went straight to Xpuhil where I met the lovely people from the Tourism office (PRO NATURA, you will find it on the left side of the road before entering the town) who filled me in with all the things I could have done and that’s where I have decided I wouldn’t have left before five days or so. I also meet a random traveler who was struggling to find a car rental. After a couple of minutes of “studying” each other, we finally decided to join forces for a couple of days. We organized the Calakmul visit, which was the most important, and both wanted to hire a guide. That turned out to be great as we shared the price, and it was more fun to wake up at 5 am and drive for an hour if you have company!
The story of my visit to Rio Bec was hilarious. I wanted to go, but the only way to reach it was by quod, and it would have been too expensive for my budget so I asked the local guides from the tourist office if there was another option and they asked a local guy with a motorbike how much he would have charged me to take me there. It was about half the price to get a bike ride, so I have accepted it. I was so grateful for this experience. And I had somebody make his salary for that day.
We also visited the community of 20 de Noviembre in the same area where I saw all the beautiful crafts they were making, clothing, unique woodworks for your house, earrings, and necklaces with seeds and other natural material. Very creative and productive. I was happy to contribute to the community by buying some of their products, but most of all, spreading the voice. They are really worth visiting.
Many visitors go straight to Calakmul, which is indeed a magnificent site worth a whole day visit. Still, few know that right in front of the same huge biosphere of Calakmúl, you can find the site of Balamkú, another beautiful testimony of the Mayan culture. The name means Jaguar temple in Maya, and it refers to one of the jaguars embodied in the polychrome stucco frieze, probably one of the largest survived intact of the Mayan world, as in the picture above.
I reached the community of Cristobal Colon where the knowledgeable guide Faustino Hernandez took me to explore these hidden caves.
Can you believe that I have actually entered this hole into mother earth? We could have walked for 3 hours, but I didn’t have the guts, and we returned – unfortunately, I didn’t have pictures to show- it was extremely dark, and we only had our small torches. It was an experience indeed to do if you are not claustrophobic – like me, for example 🙂
Thanks to the precious tips received from the kind guys from the Tourism office Pro Natura, when I left Xpujil, I had a specific itinerary that I really wanted to follow, going through an unbeaten path and discover new potentially touristic places to promote. I loved the idea of helping local communities and contributed to their small economies.
So although I was sad to leave that place that it was starting to feel like home by that time, I believe not many visitors stay for such a long time – I was excited about what was waiting for me ahead. And in fact, when I reached the small town of Candelaria, I was overwhelmed.
How come such beauty has been hiding from tourism? It’s a bit far from airports and connections, but it’s really a jewel in the jungle.
I ended up staying there for 4 nights. I loved it, especially staying in a Cabaña on the silent river. It was really soothing for the soul! But I had to move on with my trip, and I went to check out another Pueblo Magico, Palizada.
From there, I was really closed to Chiapas, Palenque, and I was really that close to making a deviation from my tour. Still, I didn’t as there was so much I hadn’t seen yet from the area, and I was looking forward to getting to Campeche, so I needed to hurry if I wanted to make it in time.
PANTANOS DE CENTLA
Palizada is located in the south of the Laguna de Terminos. I wanted to drive around the Lagoon and come up north up to Ciudad del Carmen, but everybody told me that the road was bad until I found a lady who assured me it was ok for me to go I dared.
Well, the road was indeed amazing, and I was driving along the winding Usumacinta river on the left and a canal on the right. Many little villages were scattered along the road. People looked at me as if they have never seen a foreigner before, and I could probably understand. This is not a road where people normally pass by, and tourists rarely come here. That turned out to be an amazing drive.
I stopped at the “Pantanos de Centla,” a lagoon where 3 rivers meet, and it is home to a huge variety of birds, a paradise for bird watchers. Actually, all the area is. They organize tours specifically for bird watchers. It was a lovely boat ride, which I took.
I drove through Ciudad del Carmen, where I was told not to stay as it is known as a little dangerous. So I listened and moved on towards Isla Aguada.
There I stayed one night because I wanted to take the dolphin tour. Fishermen organize these tours to see the dolphins that are living freely in the lagoon. The only possible way I would agree to join an organized tour. I manage to join somebody else’s boat, so I paid only 200 pesos. 10 used. The cost of the boat for a private tour would have cost 700 pesos for one person.
I did see one dolphin, but I couldn’t catch it with the camera. he was playing happily hide and seek with us. It’s always a precious gift when I see one of those beautiful mammals in their natural habitat.
My next stop was Miguel Colorado, the only cenote in the state of Campeche, and then I was heading towards Campeche city finally!
That night was all an adventure. I rode a motorbike with a girl driving me to see a 300 mt deep cenote in the middle of nowhere where millions of baths every night come out altogether in search of food ( and a white owl hunting them). We were in the dark by ourselves, and she candidly exclaimed, “thank god I thought to bring a light” Oh well.. yes, thank God you did, I thought”. I wasn’t scared, though. She was quite confident and knew the area. It got very dark when the bats finally came out, and we were in the middle of the jungle with just one little torch! It was hilarious.
The best part came when I reached my lodge. It was at the end of the village in total dark, and I was completely alone, with the bathroom outside my room. I wasn’t feeling really safe, but I had a cat visiting me, and I felt protected in a way. In fact, nothing happened, and I am still here writing this. But the worse has yet to come.
When I reached Champoton, I felt terribly sick, and I had to spend 4 days in the hospital, but that’s the side effect of going for adventures, and adventure it was indeed. In the town of Champoton, which I haven’t heard of before, I found an amazing doctor who looked after me as if I was her daughter. It felt good.
Before leaving the town, I visited the beautiful Hacienda San Jose’ Carpizo, a military training camp.
And then, finally, Campeche!! The city offers lots to see, and I will tell you more in another article. For now, I leave you with a couple of meaningful pictures so that you can have an idea. I loved it. I have spent there another 5 days, as I had to do some work and I wanted to explore the area.
Here another amazing archaeological site couldn’t be left unnoticed. Magnificent Edzna’.
EDZNA ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
And, my favorite spots: the haciendas. Although they are typically from Yucatan, we have a few in Campeche refurbished and commercialized by Starwood. One is called Puerta Campeche – which is actually at one of the old city doors, and the other stunning one is the Hacienda Uayamon, just a few km from the city, which unfortunately I could not visit because it was under refurbishment.
My last stop in the state of Campeche would have been Celestún if it was not for a lovely deviation I was suggested to take. And so I did, as I always listen to locals. I drifted towards Isla Arena. The place is far away and not particularly worth it, BUT, to get there, you pass through the lovely town of Calkini, and then you keep driving through the countryside until you reach Santa Cruz, a town famous for the Sombrero of Jipi Japa.
Costly hats that the locals created by hand. I stopped by, and they showed me how they make them. Sitting in a low chair in a squat position, inside a cave so that the natural thread doesn’t get spoiled. There are different models, and one of them made with 6 threads takes a whole month to complete. That’s why the high price. It’s an art that has been passed on from mothers to daughters, a tradition of these villages.
Finally, I crossed the borders, and I reached Celestún, but not before visiting the hacienda of Santa Rosa, another historical hacienda turned into a beautiful, sophisticated hotel.
In Celestun, I immediately found a ride on tour to see the so famous flamencos. There were hundreds altogether, a pink cloud on the river, fascinating to look at. You can find tours either from the beach or on the river. They should charge about 200 pesos per person. However, if you are alone, you will have to wait for a bigger group because the entire boat for you as a private tour costs around 1200 pesos.
After Celestún I continued my trip for the 2 days I had left. I started to work on my project on the haciendas which are now finished and you can check it out in this post about the hacienda luxury experience.
I hope you enjoyed this photographic journey and you are now inspired to do the same.