The heat was killing us in the middle of the Yucatan and white sand beaches were on our mind. Cancun was just down the highway and we figured a visit to the resort town was in store for us.
We arrived in Cancun late in the afternoon and, after running errands for a few hours, we pulled up to the public beach that was to be our home for a couple of days. The salty waters were the most spectacular shades of blue we have ever seen and butted up against the white sand beaches made for an impressive sight. Although the beaches were filled with people, we couldn’t help but enjoy free parking, free palapas, free bathrooms and free showers. We both agreed that it would be awesome to come to Cancun and have our own private “facilities.”
Most of the high rise hotels in Cancun are located on a small strip of land just east of the main city and mainland. Our visit wasn’t long enough to really get to see much of the city, but we did take a long walk through the “hoteleria.” We thought that it wouldn’t be right to visit Cancun and not have a beer at an establishment. Just a short walk north of the public beach, we popped into a hotel, sat at a table to take advantage of some air conditioning and I ordered a beer. Once the beer was served, I was promptly told that the resort was not open to the public, but since the beer had been poured, he let us drink it anyway. Finally, something 100% free in Mexico! To boot, the resort even had Wifi!
After a couple of days in Cancun, we headed south about an hour to spend a few days in Playa del Carmen. Once again, we stayed at another public beach with, you guessed it, free showers and bathrooms. Additionally, we were just close enough to the resort next door that we could get Wifi in our camper! The beaches along the entire coastline in Playa were incredible.
During our visit, we were able to join the Seaside Rotary Club for a weekly meeting which we both enjoyed. While in Casper, I was a member and board member of the Five Trails Rotary Club who allowed me to keep my membership and take a “leave of absence.” We will try to make at least one meeting in every country we visit. While at the meeting, we met a lot of interesting people and learned that the club helped a new school build a water purification plant and fix its solar system, raise money to bring medical equipment from the US to Mexico and help raise money for scholarships for local students to attend high school as we learned high school is not paid for by the government. As always, the Rotary meeting made us aware of local issues and ways the club has helped solve them.
Just to the east of Playa del Carmen is the island of Cozumel. Being so close and with time to spare, we decided we would visit. The island isn’t small enough to explore without transportation, but it isn’t big enough to justify bringing our own vehicle. After barely making the 8am ferry at 8:03, we enjoyed the 40 minute ride. Our research concluded that the best way to see the island is on a scooter. Having never ridden a scooter before, we got basic instructions, took a photo and put the pedal to the metal!
We headed east from the town of Cozumel to the west side of the island. It was a completely straight road which gave us ample opportunity to figure out the scooter. As we turned and headed south, it appeared the island was deserted with the occasional scooter or jeep passing by. With the wind in our face and the occasional spray from the ocean, we stopped occasionally to enjoy the sights, but really enjoyed the open road. One particular stop was a blowhole that would spray water into the air as waves crashed against the rocky shore and then pull air back in as the water pulled away. We got caught “with our pants down” as they say when a huge wave came in and completely soaked us both. After finishing our loop, we decided the combination of the wind, sun and water had whipped us and we traded in our scooter for our trusty Dodge.
We had entirely too much fun with the scooter. Ok onto more photos of Cozumel!
Continuing in our southerly direction, we eased down the road another 30 minutes to the much smaller resort town of Tulum. As we first pulled into town, we took the first major road headed to the west to explore the Grand Cenote. Cenotes are large, naturally occurring, freshwater pools that are every where in the Yucatan. For nearly 400 miles, we would see signs for a cenotes for swimming about every ten miles or so. Our research showed that the Grand Cenote was one of the largest and, although touristy, made for the best to visit. The water was cool but not cold and so incredibly clear that snorkeling and diving is the best way to explore. From above, only a small sliver is visible, but once down at the water level and near the edge, hidden passageways under the rock appear. It was certainly unnerving to be under the rock after seeing enormous pieces of rock that slivered away in years past at the bottom of the pool, but the experience was incredible. Interestingly, a small area was roped off as a habitat “reserve” for turtles. We were able to see five or ten small turtles while we were there.
Spending four days in Cancun and Playa del Carmen wore us out on the resort towns, so we picked a camp spot about ten miles south of Tulum in a national park that offered camping right on the beach with plenty of shade. As we drove along the coast south of Tulum, small boutique hotels and restaurants were everywhere. We agreed that this was probably the first place we would come back and visit given the opportunity. Dozens of bikers weaved their way along the strip from hotel to restaurant to beach to bar and, once again, we made our arrival known to everybody as our loud diesel slowly rumbled through the middle of the peacefulness. We lucked out being the only vehicle parked along our stretch of beach and there were dozens of palm trees that gave us plenty of shade. Additionally, a strong breeze that never seemed to quit blew in right off the water keeping us relatively cool all day and night. The only drawback to the camp spot was the large amount of garbage and seaweed that had washed onto the shore. We were not discouraged though and spent a fair amount time in the water. I ended up spraining my ankle pretty bad as I was running out of the ocean and ended up with my foot elevated for an entire afternoon. It was a good excuse for us to relax and read.
We left our quiet, private spot on the beach to return to Tulum once more to check Wifi and relocate to a public beach for one night. The beach had bathrooms, showers, palapas and a very nice beach all for free and we enjoyed the services immensely. At this point, I must note that the public showers I have noted throughout this post are wonderful, but not quite the same as a private shower. We thought long and hard about our last private shower and realized it had been at our campground in Cholula three weeks prior. Don’t get me wrong, a public shower is much better than no shower or a soak in the ocean, but a private shower is something we will never take for granted again! We hope these are comforting words to our parents that, although we are enjoying the nomadic or “hippie” life, we have not forgotten when we need showers or which end of a toothbrush to use.
Chetumal would be our final destination in Mexico before we would cross the border. Camping options in Chetumal are very limited and we knew it would end up being nothing more than a parking lot so we decided to break up the drive into two days and stopped at a large freshwater lagoon at about the halfway mark. This was the first lagoon we stopped at and we really enjoyed it. It was nearly 90 degrees late in the afternoon when we arrived so we hopped in the water with our snorkel gear. We snorkeled for about an hour, ended up about 50 yards from shore and the water didn’t get much deeper than six feet. Our friend Paul from Saskatchewan indicated that this was the most beautiful location in Mexico and that he and his wife lived here full time. We don’t know if we agree with him completely, but it is certainly towards the top of the list. We enjoyed visiting with him.
When we were planning our visit to mainland Mexico while in Baja, we intended on skipping the entire Yucatan peninsula in its entirety, but many people we met along the way said it was a must see. Visiting the resort towns gave us incredible insight to where we might vacation someday, but, after a while, they all blend together and aren’t as exciting traveling as we do. We enjoyed the smaller towns and seeing areas most tourists would never visit on a trip to Cancun. The hot, humid weather was something we were not prepared for and I don’t think we will ever get used to it, but it is good training for the weather we will experience in Central America.
Looking back on our lengthy visit to Mexico, we had come to realize that our visit had spanned nearly two and a half months. Many people we have talked to have stayed for their allowable six months, crossed the border to renew their tourist visas and returned for several more months. For us, there is so much more of Mexico that could be explored, but, frankly, we were ready to end this chapter and head further south to Belize. We will miss our friendly neighbor, Mexico, but know there are many more adventures ahead of us.