After enjoying a few days in the jungle of Palenque, we started heading north toward the city of Merida. The distance between Palenque and Merida was vast so we decided to take a overnight stop in a town called Campeche. On the way we were stopped at a military checkpoint and the police there had a laugh at our minimal Spanish. While they were searching our car, one of them found our bag of lollipops and he grabbed a handful and started handing them out to his buddies there at the check point. It was funny, that’s what they were there for anyway and he just decided to help himself!
When we finally got to Campeche, which was right near the ocean, we checked into our small hostel and then took a walk around town for a little bit to get a bite to eat. Then we took a walk along the beach boardwalk and saw the sunset.
The next morning we woke up early and got back on the road toward Merida. This time we got stopped once more by a military checkpoint. We had heard that there was a larger military presence in the Yucatan Peninsula so we expected to be stopped here and there. This time they not only searched our car, they brought their drug sniffing dog into the mix to make sure we weren’t smuggling in giant bags of weed into the city. Of course the dog didn’t find anything and the cops looked a little disappointed they didn’t bust some gringos red handed.
When we got to Merida it took us a while to find our hostel, Nomadas Hostel, because the sign was tiny and it was just a small doorway into a lobby that was very hard to see from the street. We circled the block a few times before we finally found it. Once we got inside we were very relieved to see a beautiful hostel with an outdoor kitchen, pool, and hammocks. There were also free salsa lessons every night in front of a big mirror too! We had plans to do a lot of things around the Merida area so we decided to stay for a few nights to make sure we could see everything we wanted to see.
The first night we just hung out since it was a bit late in the day and decided to try some authentic Yucatan cuisine at a local restaurant that got glowing reviews from the employees at the hostel for the local dishes they served. There were some older Mayan women sitting near the windows hand making corn tortillas which we enjoyed with our dinner as well. It was so amazingly good we ended up going back not once, but twice more while in Merida just to try other dishes! Yeah, we splurged a bit here, but it was so good and we had never had any food like it anywhere else. Definitely worth it.
The following day we took the car out and went to see the Uxmal ruins. This was supposedly one of the top 10 must see sites. When we got there we were completely surprised by the inflated ticket price. We had never paid more than anywhere between $35-$50 pesos for entry to a ruin site, but this one wanted nearly $60 pesos AND a $120 pesos tax. It was lame, but we coughed up the money and went anyway because we were there and couldn’t walk away from a potentially amazing site with ruins. It was worth it.
Uxmal had some amazingly preserved ruins. There were lots of well decorated facades and stone carvings we hadn’t seen at any other sites previously. It also had it’s own architectural charm with more rectangular buildings with pillars and straight edged designs. The classic square spiral motif was present here as well. It was also very nice that it wasn’t very crowded and that there weren’t peddlers at every turn trying to sell you something for “almost free.” Being there almost completely alone among the ancient architecture was very inspiring and magical. Instead of crowds and souvenirs, there were tons of wild iguanas running around like they owned the place!
As I mentioned before, we saw tons of iguanas everywhere of all different sizes. I also found some actual dung beetles in the grass! I had only ever seen them on TV, but we saw one in real life! Here he is on top of his most prized poo-session.
After seeing Uxmal, we headed over to a cave system called Grutas de Loltún. Apparently the Mayan retreated to these caves to hide from the Spanish during times of distress. They would live in the caves and drink it’s small amounts of fresh water and cook their food inside. Archeologists have also found that there were pre-Mayans who inhabbited the cave systems as well. There are very few visual indications of this left in the cave, but we did see some hand print paintings on a cavern wall which were from these inhabitants. Unfortunately, so many people have touched them over the years hardly anything remained of those paintings.
The entrance to the cave was set in the jungle and it was required to have a guide take you through the cave. There was a small handful of others in our group on the tour as well. Unfortunately, the guide was very adamant about letting everyone know that a tip is mandatory and he wanted at least $700 pesos for the 1 hour guide through the cave system.
They wouldn’t let me bring my tripod inside to get better shots, but we didn’t let that get us down and still enjoyed the beauty the cave had in store for us. There were also colored light systems set up inside to give it that ominous feel.
It was quite spectacular and we are glad we got to see it. There was also a large stalactite in the center of the cave that when you hit it in certain spots it made a loud bass tone. There were two notes you could play on the stalactite and that is where the name of the cave came from. It sounds like “Lol-tún” when you hit it, with the “tún” being an octave higher than the “Lol” sound.
After Loltún, we headed back toward Merida but not before getting lost in one of the small towns we had to drive through to get there. Getting lost can be frustrating with the lack of signs and street names, but we made it out and got back with plenty of time take a dip in the pool and lounge around in the hammocks before bed.
The following day we decided to go swimming in one of the many cenotes the Yucatan Peninsula had to offer. The particular cenote we went to was located right in the middle of some Mayan ruins called Dzibilchaltún and after paying the slightly inflated entry fee we were able to get some very refreshing swimming in. The ruins were pretty dilapidated and the vegetation surrounding the site was mostly dry and dead which made the ruins themselves seem less impressive than some of the other sites we had seen, but this spot had a beautiful swimmable cenote with lily pads and crystal clear water. It was pretty amazing to be swimming in some cool water right in the middle of some Mayan ruins.
After all of that fun around Merida, we took one more off day to relax and do some writing and blogging before we finally headed off toward the town of Valladolid to see the famous Mayan ruins of Chichén-Itzá!