The Yucantan Peninsula: Merida, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen and Cancun
23.09.2012 - 03.10.2012 32 °C
Ahhh….Mexico’s Yucantan Peninsula, the ultimate place for beach binging and bar hopping with a little bit of culture on the side. We started our assault in merry Merida, the capital of the Yucantan state. It’s a city is full of history, ice cream coloured buildings and locals obsessed with music and dancing.
Merida is a city that loves life. Everyday there’s a free concert somewhere in the centre. In our five days we stumbled upon salsa bands in the shopping centre, folk dancers in the plaza and opera singers in the park. The atmosphere is irresistible. It’s as if everyone’s on a permanent holiday.
— 10pm on a Monday night in Merida.
— Maypole dancing, Mexican style.
— Thirsty watching: a traditional Yucatecan folk dance.
Yucatecans were also some of the proudest and friendliest people I have ever come across. Almost every time I pointed my camera at a building or monument, a local would come up to me and explain its history. Others would approach offering tips on where to eat and how best to organise my visits to Merida’s many art galleries, theatres and museums. Locals were especially keen on us visiting the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, which was just a few days old. It was a good tip, the museum had a light show that made everyone ooh and aah.
— The museum of Mayan history opened late September 2012.
— Although there's a free concert every night, we paid a couple bucks to see a performance at the ritzy Jose Peon Contreras Theatre (below).
Merida is one steamy city, with the temperature reaching above 30 degrees everyday. Five minutes of walking in the tropical sun and you’d be drowned in sweat and smelling like a pile of dirty socks. The beach is a half hour bus ride away so we instead spent a lot of time in our hostel’s pool...
After Merida it was on to Tulum for some sand and surf.
The beach in Tulum is paradise. Powdery white sand that squeaks underfoot and turquoise water. It’s the stuff screensavers are made of. But it’s not every beach that has its own set of Mayan ruins.
Unlike its cousins Cancun and Playa Del Carmen to the west, Tulum is not too overdeveloped. Brayden and I were able to stay right on the beach in a little cabana for a little over 20 bucks. As it was low season, we were practically the only ones there. Us and about a million mosquitoes and sandflies that is. Paradise does have its drawbacks.
— Our humble abode at Zazil Kin Cabanas.
— Our humble watering hole! It came with it's own salsa band...
On our fourth and final day we snapped out of our sunbaking stupor and checked out the ruins. While minuscule compared to other Mayan ruins in the country, the settings don’t get much more spectacular.
Tulum was built more than 700 years ago and is one of the last cities inhabited by the Mayans. Now it’s home to hundreds of iguanas and hordes of tourists (Tulum is the most visited ruins in all of Mexico). It only takes about an hour to wonder around, then it’s time for a dip at the beach. It doesn’t get much better than admiring the ruins while floating on your back in the Caribbean. I wonder if this is what the Mayans did?
After the ruins it was on to the plastic fantastic Playa Del Carmen, just an hour away.
Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is a lot like Australia’s Gold Coast but with less high-rises and more tourists. Avenue 5 is where most of the action happens. It’s the gringo’s playground, full of shops, bars, restaurants, spas and nightclubs. Prices are outrageous for Mexico. An icecream will cost you four bucks and a sandwich five. Mind you, you can pick up a sequined sombrero for a song.
— Hard to believe it was a little fishing village not too long ago.
The beach is incredible but pails in comparison to Tulum. The water isn’t as clear and there’s a lot of traffic from boats and jetskis. It does have this hip and groovy vibe thanks mostly to the beach clubs that line the shore. I felt like a complete dag drinking at them. Probably because I use words like ‘hip’ and ‘groovy’.
— The sun beds are free...the only catch is you have to buy two cocktails. It was frustrating but I coped.
There are nightclubs everywhere, but the daddy of them all is Coco Bongo. Described as a Las Vegas show on cocaine, it costs a budget-blowing US$45 just to get through the door (and that’s the cheapest ticket). But man, is it worth it! The deal is, you drink as much as you want while being entertained by acrobats, impersonators and dancers and showered in confetti, bubbles and balloons.
— The show begins at 11pm with an act from the Phantom of the Opera.
From Sinatra and the Beatles to Beyonce, Moulin Rouge, Ga Ga, MJ and Spiderman – the variety is huge. I spent most of the night dancing on the bar. Alas, it isn’t as scandalous as it sounds. Most of the girls were up there with me, after all it was the best view in the house and you just had to bob down for a drink. The only drawback was the amount of confetti that fell into your drink. After a while, my vodka and orange started tasting like papier-mâché.
— That's right ...Elysha Hickey boogying on the bar!
— LMFAO: Everyday I'm Shufflin.
— Men in Black 3
Last on our tour of the Yucatan was Cancun for some wet t-shirt competitions. Ha! Most travellers told us to avoid it, but we were curious and it was less than an hour away, so we did a day trip.
— Cancun cops as many as 6 million tourists a year. The hotel zone goes for 22 kilometres!
Cancun really is Vegas by the sea. To be fair, the beach is stunning, it’s just shame it’s been invaded by a mob of monster resorts. We wondered through a couple of these monsters, trying not to stand out like the scabby backpackers we are. Cancun is also not kind to scabby backpackers with empty bellies. The restaurants are those flashy American joints, with prices to match. Dammit, where are the one dollar taco stands?
—Pulling up a chair at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville.
After dinner, we jumped on an overnight bus to Belize. It was sad leaving, Mexico really has it all. But I guess all good things come to an end …Let’s see what Belize has in store.