Express Yucatan: no pretexts!
Whether you are staying in Cancun or along the Riviera Maya between Puerto Morelos and Tulum, there is no excuse for not exploring the inland area of the Yucatan Peninsula, where authentic Mexican culture and unspoiled nature play a prominent role.
Actually, there is so much to see that I reckon it can be discouraging, especially if you are only staying a week or two and really want to enjoy the beautiful beaches on the coast.
Worry not; we have prepared the perfect itinerary for you. It lasts only two days and one night but you will manage to see and experience the real thing…the essence of the Yucatan Peninsula and I am sure you will love it so much that you will want to stay longer, or at least plan another trip.
First of all, you need to rent a car; it is safe and here I wrote some useful tips.
No matter where you are, your first stop will be Valladolid; (130 to 150 km away). Here you will find a beautiful colonial city, and it is the first gateway to the Yucatan. One of the “Pueblos Mágicos”, you cannot go anywhere without stopping in Valladolid.
On arrival, you will have time to take a dip in Cenote Zaci, located 2 blocks from the centre, which will cool you off and get you ready and refreshed for the hotter part of your day.
The second, essential stop is the main square with the cathedral of San Gervasio which is well worth a visit; from there you can continue towards Calle 41 and then Calzada de Los Frailes, where you can walk past the typical brightly-coloured houses, explore high-quality artisan shops, and stop by the famous Jardin de los Frailes for a delicious local lunch.
When you are rested and restored you can continue along the same road, which will take you to the “Convento di San Bernardino da Siena”. My suggestion is to pay the entrance fee and go inside, aiding the local community to keep it maintained and open, and also finding yourself transported back in time by the old construction and its museum.
Ready for your next stop? Izamal, only 80 km from Valladolid, to which you can take a shortcut through small towns and lush countryside. We were taken by surprise to find huge, beautiful churches like the one in Dzitas or the Templo de Santo Domingo in Uayma, amazing pieces of history scattered around the countryside of Yucatan, in the middle of nowhere, and so much history behind them!
Once you get to Izamal you are going to be literally blinded by the bright yellow color of the historical center, hence its nickname, ‘’the yellow city,” and indeed it is. The dominant role is played by the monastery though (of course yellow as well), a magnificent construction open to the public. If you wish, the church holds mass at certain times exposed at the entrance, and outside a huge green lawn invites you to take some rest after the sweaty walk around. Oh yes, I almost forgot the most interesting part… IT IS HOT HOT HOT, but totally worth all the sweat. Please drink lots of water and always carry a bottle around with you.
It is here where you are going to spend the night, so ideally, find the hotel and rest during the hottest hours, when you get there. There is not much more to see other than walk around and enjoy the local architecture, and restaurants. At night they have started to implement a light and sound show, which I find amusing and entertaining. Basically a few local guides take you around the centre to different points, where a digital movie is reflected on the wall and an external voice explains the history of the town. At the time of writing this article the show is in Spanish only, but they are sure to do it in English as well in the near future. Very interesting. I love Izamal, and I am not at all surprised that it was one of the first pueblos mágicos to be nominated.
In the morning, unless you have fallen in love with the culture and decided to extend your tour, it would be time to leave and set off for Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan region (Yucatan is the geographical name of the peninsula and the political name of the Yucatan state).
In an hour’s time you will be in Merida, a huge city, but easily manageable; and once you reach the historical center, it all becomes magical. There is so much to see and do, and the tourist office is well organized, even offering a walking tour around town, which I recommend taking. In order to do this, you will need to stop by the tourist office located on the left-hand side of the main square, facing the church. You will also be given an application for your phone with an interactive map of the area. All in all very smart and well organized. There is comfortable parking in town, where for a just few bucks they will look after your car, so you can start your walk with your mind at ease.
You will only have a few hours to spare here because the plan is to check out a cenote on the way back. There are so many, so it depends how soon you want to be back to your hotel and just how tired you are. We decided to just walk around the main plaza and some historical streets, but with plenty of churches and monuments, you could easily spend a couple of nights here.
As I said, however, if you don’t have time, a quick stop for 3 hours is enough to get the feel of a place and then decide if you wish to come back and get more familiar with its history, through museums and other sites.
We decided to leave around 2pm and drive towards Playa del Carmen where we were staying, stopping for a ‘’chapuzon ‘’’ (a quick splash) in the cool water of a cenote …… and having lunch there; and how refreshing it was…
Cenote Yokdzonot is a huge open cenote, situated just 5- minutes drive from the main road,100 km from Merida in the direction of Valladolid, on the “libre” (the Mexican name for the regular road, as opposed to the highway), where you will see the sign. It was really refreshing after having walked around the hot city and they have also a very simple but lovely restaurant with local cuisine, where we stopped and had a delicious late lunch before heading off towards Playa del Carmen.
As I was saying, there are a lot of cenotes scattered around the region. You can check out my posts on the cenotes here.! Let me know if Express Yucatan is suitable for you and how you enjoyed it!
SUGGESTED HOTELS IN IZAMAL
HACIENDA SANTO DOMINGO – if you decide to stay in town, in order to enjoy it fully and not worrying about driving this is the place to be. Located at a walking distance from the main plaza, you still feel you are in the middle of the jungle as the beautiful cottages are scattered around a flowery lush garden and connected with the main house though white gravel sac-be’ like path. The rooms are artistically decorated with love and attention to details to guarantee you a comfortable stay in a laid-back luxury ambiance.
HACIENDA SAN FRANCISCO DE TZACALHA is situated at about 30 minutes driving from Izamal. A stunning property and a perfect example of how an old hacienda has been turned in a beautiful hotel conserving the layout of the property, the very essence of each building, merging culture with nature. It offers different kinds of rooms, from the more simple (ripios) recalling the Mayan simple architecture, to the more sophisticated suites which reproduce the old patron houses, with original tiles and ornamental objects and air conditioning (This amazing property not advisable if you are in a rush, like in such express tour, because you will want to enjoy the hacienda itself and the surroundings that have a lot to offer. I would suggest at least 2 nights here)
This is where I have stayed every time I went to Izamal. It’s a cute little hotel right on the main plaza. It’s really cozy and comfortable in a historical colonial house, with high ceilings, tiled floor and peculiar pieces of furniture. It has a lovely internal garden where you will enjoy your breakfast. It’s a very good option if you don’t want to spend too much on accommodation and still be comfortable.
If you wish to stay in your own colonial villa this is the perfect option for you. It can hold up to 12 people and has 4 rooms, a beautiful internal patio with swimming pool. It is decorated in a colonial modern style. The perfect way to live the colonial Yucatan.