We continued our journey around the edge of the Yucatán peninsula, into the state of Quintana Roo and to its easternmost point and renowned tourist hotspot, Cancún. From there we took a swift catamaran to Isla Mujeres, thus named by the Spanish due to the abundance of goddess images that the Mayans had sculpted there. It is now better known for its white beaches, calm, turquoise waters and – perhaps less so – its art and artisanal products.
The quality of the beaches is a big draw meaning sun loungers and party boats are a regular sight, but overall not terribly intrusive.
Continuing down the eastern coast, we next visited Tulum, which is known for its coastal Mayan ruins and eco-chic vibe, as well as having a couple of the peninsula’s 6,000 cenotes (places where underground water bodies connect to the surface) within resonable distance.
Along with the cenotes, the other main areas of interest are also a little spread out meaning that access to a bicycle (or other means of personal transport) is essential.
The first of these that we visited was the ruin site. While it lacks the impressive large structures of the other sites we’ve visited, its dramatic cliff-side location surely makes it worth a visit.
As we’ve now come to expect when visiting ruins, there was a wildlife presence here too.
Just a short hop south is the main beach area, where the majority of the eco-chic hotels can be found. As with Isla Mujeres, white sands prevail here, although the sea is more rough due to the second largest coral reef in the world, which extends from the Quintana Roo coast all the way down to Honduras. We liked the tranquility here – a notable contrast to our previous beach destination.
Finally, we paid a visit to Gran Cenote, chosen as we surely assumed that it would be the largest in the area and therefore the best! Perhaps because of this, it is very popular so we made an effort to arrive shortly after opening and found ourselves leaving within an hour, once the tour busloads started to arrive. Although somewhat brief, it was a wonderful experience – seeing turtles and fish underwater along with bats flying about above it. For the turtle-spotters out there, this place is home to, amongst others, Red Eared Sliders.
Much akin to San Pedro, Tulum shows a better-than-average awareness of the perils of waste!
Quesadillas con guacamole has pretty much become our standard dish in Mexico and although we did have it once in the town, we found a good deal more variety in plant-based options here, especially out on the coast.
Our final stop before heading back inland was the small town of Bacalar, set on the edge of the stunning lagoon of the same name.
As well as the lagoon, the town has a thriving arts scene and provides good variety of eating options (even a vegan burger joint!) for a place of its size. Tour buses generally don’t come this far south as well, which gives the place a more untouched feel.
The lagoon itself is 42 km long and is said to show seven different colours at times – which we could believe! We took a little bicycle trip to a recommended part of the coastline for a swim and swing.
Interesting forms of marine ‘life’ include stromatolites or “layered biochemical accretionary structures”. More easily referred to as living rocks, there are examples that date back billions of years.
From up in the town you can look down on the many thatched docks that line the coast.
The old fort served to protect the town from the pesky pirates who pillaged throughout the Caribbean in centuries gone.
Next, we travel to the state of Oaxaca…