Never ever once in my life did I think that I would say to myself that we’re “happy” to get away from the sandy beaches and into the cities. But again…you should “never say never.” After spending 2 months on perfect beaches with perfect sand and perfect weather – we were actually pretty excited to go inland and explore some more culture-rich areas of the Yucatan. First stop? Valladolid!
The first (and only) bus direct from Chiquila to Valladolid was at 5:30am. Clearly, this sounded a bit rough so we explored some other options from our concierge at our hostel. We found out we could take the 7am ferry from Holbox to Chiquila then hop on the 7:30am 2nd class bus to a town called Tizimin. Hop off the bus. Grab another bus to Valladolid. We were a bit weary of the 2nd class buses because we hadn’t taken one before but really all it means is that they’re older model buses and they can stop anywhere in between – much like the colectivos.
Arriving in Valladolid was such a great change of pace. It wasn’t a big city – but it was still city. And so much different from Playa del Carmen or Tulum. You could tell this small city had a history and culture. The architecture was amazing. Old churches, convents, etc. – there was a lot more “buzz” going on around the area as well.
We were only here for 2 days and number one on our “to-do” list was the X’Keken cenote just outside the city. Our hotel rented out bikes by the hour and we opted for this since we saw that it was only a 20 minute bike ride outside the city. Best. Experience. Ever. This cenote was something you always see people brag about when they say the word “cenote.” We just barely beat the crowds and for a moment – we had the cenote, down in a cave, all to ourselves (almost.) There was a hole in the top of the cave that let the sunlight creep in which exposed all the tiny fish swimming inside. It was truly a magical and surreal moment.
Next stop? The yellow city of Izamal! It’s a bit off the main highway and probably not a stop for many. I saw another travel couple’s blog mention how much they loved this small city for its colors (or color I should say), and again, its history – so we figured we should make it a point to visit. SO glad we did! The bus ride took a bit longer than expected since it was a 2nd class bus again with many stops in between (a 60 minute drive by car, 2 hours by bus.)
Our hotel, Hotel Rinconada del Convento, couldn’t have been a more perfect location. The view from the rooftop balcony was the centrally located Convento de San Antonio de Padua. Absolutely gorgeous. Izamal is small, quaint, quiet and not a ton going on – and the whole town is painted yellow! It was just beautiful.
We met a French couple and they quickly became our friends for the next evening and next day. Julien and Geraldine. We spent the evening laughing, talking and drinking on the rooftop. The convent even has a nightly light show to tell the history of the city – all four of us went. We didn’t understand a word but it was gorgeous.
The next morning we all had breakfast at the hotel and walked the main pyramid just in town called Kinich Kak Moo. It isn’t gigantic by any means but it was still very impressive. All four of us hiked to the top and it provides a great view of the small city of Izamal and the expansive jungle that surrounds it. Pretty amazing. There were still some stray dogs around town that broke my heart – trying to make myself realize and understand I can’t help them. Ended the night with an incredible view of the sunset from our rooftop balcony.
The one down side of our stay in Izamal was that we spent WAY too much money on food. TripAdvisor is great for some things but you have to realize…it’s coming from tourists who often like to keep it safe. We had a super mediocre diner at a very well reviewed restaurant called Kinich. If you’re ever in Izamal – don’t do it. It’s a trap. By far the best food we had (and cheapest!) in Izamal were street tacos in the square after the light show and then a torta by the bus station before we left. No joke. Stick to the street food.
After 2 short days we boarded yet another 2nd class bus to the capital of the Yucatan state – Merida. Again, it took longer than a car would (90 minutes versus about 45) but it was cheap and just fine by us.
When we arrived in Merida we were immediately greeted by the extreme heat and crazy amount of people. This is a legit real city. It felt like we stepped into a completely new world. Navigating crowds through the streets. Countless shops. Vendors. Beggars. This was truly a big city. We had no idea.
Merida is amazing and beautiful though. Again – so much gorgeous history and architecture. Not to mention the culture. It’s so vibrant and alive here. We really really love Merida. Not once had we come across a town in the Yucatan and thought “we could live here.” Until we got to Merida. It has everything you need. Different neighborhoods offering different things. Public markets. Shops. And Uber! Every ride we took was under $3, by the way. It’s truly a special city that more people need to visit.
To start off – there’s cathedrals scattered about the city that are truly breathtaking. Again – I don’t care if you do or don’t believe in God, or gods, or whatever, you can’t deny the beauty that these places hold.
We also visited one of the city’s biggest local markets – called the Mercado Luis de Galvez. It literally has everything you would ever need. From fruits, veggies and spices to seafood, meat and shoes! Anything! It’s huge and overwhelming and full of smells and sights you’ve never experienced before. It was quite the sensory overload but we enjoyed every moment of it – including the food and the fresh juices.
After experiencing the “heart” of the centro/downtown – we explored other parts of this bustling city. It really reminded of us of some American towns – each neighborhood offering something totally different. A friend on Twitter told us to explore Paseo Montejo which is an absolutely gorgeous street lined with wide sidewalks and beautiful buildings. Reminiscent of a “Beverly Hills” of Merida. It was really quite out of any element we had experienced thus far in Mexico.
It’s absolutely crazy to think that our time in Mexico is done. We feel like we’ve done so much and yet time has absolutely flown by. We board our plane tomorrow morning to go back to the States with so many memories and so many stories. Not to mention a completely different view on life than what we came here with.
Excited to get back to the states, as brief as it may be, to see some dearly missed friends and family! Muchas gracias Mexico! Adios!