“There is no religion better than love, no color better than the color of happiness and no language better than the language of compassion.”
Mexico! The land of tequila, tacos and tan lines, and the starting point of our next big adventure. We had been to the North American country prior, but we were tourists, staying at an all-inclusive resort for a friend’s wedding. This time we vowed to see the true Mexico, as travellers.
We began on the west coast of the country, the Pacific Coast, in Puerto Vallarta. Our first day was spent enjoying the sun and strolling along the beach in order to settle into the travel life once again. We took a brief break from the sand and surf for lunch at a tiny local watering hole, where we indulged in the most quintessential Mexican fare: margaritas, burritos and nachos, each chip slathered in delicious refried beans. The first of any trip day should always be reserved for indulgences.
Our following two days in PV were forecasted to be cloudy. With that in mind we planned activities for those days that did not involve beach bumming. The first day of overcast skies allowed us to get some exercise, walking up and down the hilly cobblestone streets of old downtown Puerto Vallarta. The coastal town is built into a mountain side, and the streets are perpetually filled with tourists, travellers and locals. A delicious lunch at one of the many local taco trucks, where the ingredients are fresh and local, was well-earned that day and only cost us $4CAD.
The second day of clouds sparked our curiosity to find out what was beyond the town of Puerto Vallarta. A quick Google search for hikes in the area led us to take the city bus 30 minutes south, to the tiny fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan, simply referred to as “Boca” by locals. The trailhead of the hike, at the west side of town, began with a bridge over a mountain runoff river, which lead into the ocean. The mountainous 3km (one way) hike lead to Playa Colomitos, which is about 40 feet wide and only accessible by foot. Upon reaching the secluded beach and enjoying the view of the vast Pacific for a while, we were just packing up to head back to Boca along the same trail we hiked in, when we saw another couple cross Colomitos and continue to hike on. We stopped them, just before they were out of sight, to ask where the continued trail led. They told us that there were several foot/boat access only beaches to see along the coastline if we continued on and we could get a water taxi back to Boca if we hiked all the way to Playa Las Animas. It didn’t take us long to decide to continue on and before we knew it we were stepping foot onto some of the most unspoilt beaches we had ever seen. Our favourite spot along the way, Playa de Caballo, was such because our footprints were the only ones in the sand. We reached our final destination of Playa Las Animas just in time for lunch and Piña Coladas on the beach, before we hopped on a water taxi and made our way back. We wrapped up our final day in Puerto Vallarta with an unforgettable dinner sitting in the lush courtyard at El Arrayan, where the food is recognized by UNESCO for it’s homage to traditional Mexican cuisine. During our three hours spent there we got to know the owner of the beautiful establishment, sipped on wine and dined on plantain empanadas, duck tostadas and local seafood.
After a full day of travel we arrived in Mexico City in the evening and checked into our Airbnb, complete with its prime location in the borough of La Roma and its beautiful rooftop terrace. We were pleasantly surprised at the infrastructure and architecture in a city of 23 million people, having never felt crowded, other than on the odd transit ride. The city is clean, well-kept and bustling. Jeff had been fighting a sore throat for a couple of days, so our 48 hours spent exploring the city were less packed than we would have liked. That being said we made sure to catch all the recommended highlights: Zocalo, Catedral Metropolitana, Centro Cultural de Espana, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Monumento a la Revolution, Bosque de Chapultepec and Museo Nacional de Antropologia. All of these historical and architectural masterpieces were wonderful to see, although our personal highlight was a traditional Mexican breakfast at El Cardenal, a recommendation that came from the owner of El Arrayan. We waited an hour for our table, at 9:00am on a Friday morning, but the food and extravagant experience was worth every minute of the wait. This upscale breakfast and lunch restaurant has four locations in Mexico City and is a well-oiled and delicious machine, accustomed to having large crowds of patrons daily, waiting to indulge in: pastries with clotted cream, huevoes rancheros or champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate). Breakfast at El Cardenal is something every traveller to Mexico City should experience.
Another domestic Volaris flight landed us in the town of Merida, in the north-west of the Yucatan peninsula. We made a pit stop at the walk-in clinic at Farmacias Similares where Jeff was diagnosed with, what we can only assume was, strep throat. The doctor didn’t speak a lick of English, but he was able to communicate “infectado”, and prescribed antibiotics. From there we hopped on a city bus to the port town of Progreso, where we had a short two-night stopover, which was more than enough time. Had we allowed more time in the area, we would have visited the nearby flamingo colony of Celestun. Progreso, however, having not much more to offer than a strip of beachfront and restaurants as well as a potent fishy aroma, was the perfect place for us to catch up on some much needed rest.
Five hours on an ADO bus and we had made it to the backpackers haven of Tulum! There are a plethora of sights to see and experiences to have in this area, so we booked four nights at Harmony Glamping and Boutique Hotel. Our lotus-bell tent was dreamy and the facilities were very well-kept, but our last night there ate at the on-grounds restaurant, which goes by the name of Flow. We were the only customers there and we felt more like a burden, to the seven staff who were hanging out, rather than welcomed guests. That being said, the outdoor restaurant has a great vibe and the food was delicious.
Bicycles are the most common form of transportation in Tulum, for both travellers and locals alike, and rentals are available at most hotels and many local shops for around $6CAD for 24hrs. We rented bikes our first morning in Tulum in order to get around and visit some of the nearby cenotes. Cenotes are massive sinkholes in the earth, filled with fresh ground and rain water. They vary in size and shape but they all have a mystical ambience, filled with turquoise waters. There are several options available for getting two and from the cenotes, but biking is definitely the most economical and common among budget travellers and those up for some exercise. We only visited two, of the dozens of cenotes in the area, but both far exceeded our expectations. Our first stop was Gran Cenote, which was not as busy as we had expected, but still set up like a proper tourist spot, with showers, bathrooms, rules to follow and a cafe for lunch. This massive cenote has a dock built into the centre of it and visitors are able to swim all the way around the dock, within the crystal clear waters. The braver souls, like Jeff, ventured deep within the dark nooks and crannies of the cave. The second cenote we visited, Cenote Calavera (nicknamed The Temple of Doom), was a much different experience than the first. There was no ticket booth or security, no rules, showers or cafe. Just a guy sitting at the edge of his property line, beside a sign that read, “Cenote!” We paid him the entry fee and walked down the man’s driveway, past his house and into his backyard. We passed two scuba divers, as they were coming out, who informed us that we would have the cenote all to ourselves, “Romantic…” they said with their German accent, which gave us all a laugh. The German diver was correct, we were the only ones there, which made for a very unique experience, compared to the Gran Cenote. We spent about 30 minutes jumping in the dark hole of turquoise waters, listening to the squeaks of the bats who call the cave home and staring the awe of the natural wonder.
That evening we ventured from Tulum Pueblo, the central town where we were staying, to a waterfront dinner at Ziggy’s Beach Club. We enjoyed a delicious meal with a bottle of wine and live music. It wasn’t until about 5:00am the following morning, when Jeff woke up vomiting, that we realized he had contracted food poisoning; maybe from his steak at dinner the night before, maybe somewhere else, we’ll never really know. Regardless, the following day was a write off, as he battled the illness in bed, and I stuck around the resort pool, checking in on him every half hour.
Thank goodness Jeff’s food poisoning only lasted 12hrs, and we were able to enjoy our last day in Tulum. We planned to see the Tulum Ruins and Archeological Site, and wanted to get there early morning, in hopes of beating the crowds. We were successful in our first goal, but not so much our second, as the place was packed by our 9:00am arrival. Nonetheless, this was our first encounter with Mayan history and we were fascinated with the architecture and preservation of the ancient walled city by the sea. Besides that, we had fun spotting umpteen iguanas, big and small, lounging on the hot stones of the historic structures.
After a couple hours taking in the history, in 30 degree heat we were ready for a swim and a cold drink. We walked from the archeological site to the public access beach in Tulum, Playa Paraiso. For $6CAD we rented a cabana on the beach for the afternoon, where we ate, drank and relaxed, taking in our favourite spot that we had visited in Mexico.
The next morning we hopped on another ADO bus for the four hour trip to the Belize-border town of Chetumal. A pretty little town, with not much to offer in the way of entertainment, we spent our last day in Mexico sitting by our hotel pool drinking Coronas and discussing what we were looking forward to in the coming weeks.
Each time we start a new adventure it takes about a week to really get in the travel groove; to leave behind the stresses from home and fully live in the moment. This time around I’m not sure we will ever be able to be the carefree travellers we have been in he past. We are having trouble disregarding world issues, which are very much effecting us as global citizens and the countries we’re currently visiting. In a time of unrest on our world, I can’t help but wonder what there is to fear or dislike about this beautiful country and culture. Never once did we feel unsafe, unwanted or anything less than equals. The people of Mexico are hospitable, welcoming and kind to travellers of all colours, religions and backgrounds. It’s hard to argue the fact that we are all looking for solace or any shred of hope these days, but to do so I encourage everyone to travel. Now, more than ever, we need to break the barriers, get out of our comfort zones, learn about other cultures and befriend those from all over this big beautiful world that we ALL call home. We cannot fight ignorance with ignorance. Knowledge is power and it is the only way to truly find peace.