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Where to Eat in Merida, Mexico

La Chaya Maya

Everyone will tell you to eat here when in Merida, Mexico. Everyone, that is, but us.

Pretty much everyone will give you the same restaurant recommendation for Merida, Mexico. It didn’t matter whether we consulted independent blogs, Tripadvisor, or our hotel staff. Almost everyone told us to eat at La Chaya Maya. Everyone but one guy, who we’ll get to in a minute.

But we’re not going to tell you to eat at La Chaya Maya. And not because it is bad, far from it. If you want solid Mayan / Mexican food served in a large Mexican-themed restaurant by people wearing traditional Mayan clothing at tourist-appropriate prices, then La Chaya Maya may be your best bet in town. It is good food and good service at still affordable prices. But once you’ve had your fill of sipping margaritas and being serenaded by roving minstrels strumming versions of La Bamba, you may hunger for something a bit different. Plus, you don’t need us to tell you what everyone else probably will.

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Mexican Food Surprises, Disappointments, and Discoveries

Ummmm, salbutes

Mmmm, salbutes

After nearly three weeks in Mexico we’ve still only just scratched the surface of the country’s cuisine. And having only traveled in the Yucatan we haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore its regional nuances. But first impressions still matter. So here are some of ours about this foreign cuisine that we Americans know so well.

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Uxmal, Our Favorite Mayan Site Anywhere

Uxmal Mayan Ruins, Mexico

We’ve visited ancient Mayan cities from Mexico’s Chichen Itza to Guatemala’s Tikal along with a slew of others in between. And while some of those sites are larger, more historically important, or were more fun to get to, none impressed us as much as Uxmal.

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Mayan Ecotours to Celestun. No bueno!

Flamingos, Celestun, Mexico

On the plus side, we got to see flamingos. It was a first for us, and we are delighted to have had the opportunity. Unfortunately, we got to spend a total of twelve minutes with them. I know it was only twelve minutes because that is the amount of time stamped between my first flamingo photo and my last.

As our boat started motoring away from the flock after such a short visit I thought surely we were heading to another area to spy on more of these rare and beautiful birds. But no. After twelve whole minutes – just 2.3% of the roughly eight and a half hours we spent with Mayan Ecotours that day – we were done with the birds. 

Flying Flamingo, Celestun, Mexico

We were lucky enough to spot one, and only one, flying flamingo in the short amount of time we had with the flock. If I’d have blinked I would have missed it. Probably about half our boat did.

Instead of stalking more flamingos we went to tour mangroves, some of which were pretty cool. But most of our time, a whopping two and a half hours, we spent at the beachfront restaurant they took us to for lunch. For those keeping track, that means we spent about thirteen times as long at lunch as we did doing the thing we joined the tour specifically to do. 

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How to Visit the Mythical City of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, Kukulcán Pyramid, Mexico

Once one of the largest cities in the Mayan world and quite possibly one of the seven mythical locations of human origin, the ruins of Chichen Itza lies within a totally day-tripable 2 hour bus ride from Cancun. That proximity to cruise-ship central also makes it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

With that in mind, we planned our visit with the intention of arriving early enough to beat the hordes. So we booked a room at the Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza; a hotel located within walking distance of the less-utilized southern entrance to the park.

We found the hacienda-style hotel quaint, comfortable and clean. The only downside is that dining options in the area are limited to the handful of similar resorts located on this side of the park. We checked out a few other options but ended up eating every meal in the hotel’s poolside courtyard where the food was adequate if not inspiring.

El Caracol observatory temple, Chichen Itza, Mexico

The “El Caracol” observatory temple as seen prior to entering the park’s southern gate.

But we didn’t come to Chichen Itza for the food. We came to explore the ruins. So the following morning we made our way to the entrance gate just before opening at 8:00 AM. At that hour we stood second in a line of about six people and waited to pay the two separate admission fees of 65 pesos (US $3.60) and 132 pesos (US $7.30) per person.

Shortly after scanning our tickets we were in the park walking past still empty checkpoints and vendors who were only just starting to set up their stalls. We were among only a handful of other tourists in the park.

And in this one instance, I’m not quite sure how much beating the crowds really mattered.

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