Mexico: Whale Sharks, Cenotes, Jungles, Chitzen Itza and Beautiful Beaches

After a great start in Cuba, next up on our journey is Mexico. We decided to limit ourselves to south-east region of Mexico. A reason for this is that this region is much more safe than the north; another is that our plan is to continue travelling south afterwards through Guatemala and more of Latin America. For some reason, we both always have wanted to go to Mexico. During our journey, we find that the country does this desire more than just; it is incredible how much it has to offer! The nature is amazing, we have been swimming with whale sharks, explored the old city of the Mayas and much more. I know my writing about Cuba was very positive, but Mexico is definitely a great destination. It is fascinating how different both experiences were.

Cancun

After a very long flight from Havana, we arrived in Cancun, Mexico. Well, the flight is not very long actually (1 hour), but in terms of difference in culture (lifestyle), the flight could have been to the other side of the planet. In Cuba it is more than challenging to get some basic groceries, get your hands on some money and connect to Wi-Fi, but now we were back in western “civilization”. Personally, I was quite happy to know that the US kind of feeling which you get in Cancun (Walmart sized stores) would only be in this area (being a very popular destination for the American youth). But still, it was somewhat of a relieve to have access to some decent food and drinks again. My expectations of Cancun were not too high, but there were some great aspects to it that made it more than enjoyable.

To start, our hostel was absolutely great. Breakfast, dinner, games, a swimming pool; life was good. With that, the people were really nice too and we got to meet many likeminded travelers from whom we got some great information on how to proceed. The first night, we ended up in a local bar together with about 15 people from the hostel. It was unlimited drinking for $8. Yes it was… and it was fun, but we didn’t feel that well the day after. But that wasn’t that much of a problem as we could just explore the city a little bit and relax by the pool. In Cancun, we also took the opportunity to buy some extra (light) clothes. It seems that you never really pack exactly what you need; we for some reason underestimated the heat a little bit. More frequently than we would like to admit, we have been wondering how there could possibly still be sweat remaining in our bodies.

On our last day in Cancun, we did something that I have been dreaming of for a long time. We went swimming with whale sharks! When I said dreaming I didn’t mean it literally, as I’ve always had nightmares about being attacked by sharks in the open ocean, but this I have always wanted to do. It was way out of our budget, but I guess sometimes you just have to do something and enjoy the experience for the rest of your life. Also, this seemed to be the only place were it can be done. So we set out on the 1.5 hour trip to the site where the whale sharks should be swimming around to feed themselves. I have never been sick on a boat before, but this ride didn’t make me very happy. Anne was doing fine, but she probably wished she were sick too, because than she wouldn’t have to worry about the huge fish she was about to swim with. Just for your information, whale sharks are incredibly big and reach up to 15 meters, but they only eat some of the smallest creatures (krill / plankton) and are therefore not dangerous to humans. To us the ocean seems pretty huge and everything seems the same. From the point where the whale sharks are at, there is no land to be seen anywhere around you. For some reason, however, a large group of whale sharks (more than 50) choose to go to exactly this location during a specific season every year. From a distance, you can already see the large fins of the sharks floating around, and that’s where the excitement really takes over. As you do not want to disturb the lives of the whales, it is not allowed to touch them and only two tourists can swim with one at the time, accompanied by a guide. When its your turn, you sit down on the railing of the boat with your flippers and mask/snorkel on. Once the boat driver manages to get the boat in front of the whale, you jump into the water and suddenly, you are in the water with the biggest sort of fish in the world. We got three attempts, of which the third was the best. We got in the water and we see literally nothing around us, only water. After a few seconds, the massive whale sharks swims right at us, which doesn’t seem to bother him (or her) at all. It swims past us and we have to swim as fast as we can in order to keep up; these fish are very fast. It costs some effort, but when swimming next to him you get a real good chance to look at it. You can see the beautiful color that it has, its skin seems very soft which makes you want to touch it (we didn’t) and some smaller fish have attached themselves to the whale and lift along with it. Its massive tale moves about three meters from the left to the right pushing it forward. As soon as we couldn’t keep up with it any longer, another whale arises from the right and swims right passed us. In an argument afterwards, we ended up agreeing on that the biggest whale shark that we had seen was 12 meters long.  Incredible. It is difficult to comprehend what you see at that time, especially the first time, making that the experience gets better and better the more often you do it. We could only do three times of course, but luckily we still have the video, which we from that point on have been watching basically every day as it was such an amazing experience.

Merida

We didn’t initially plan to go to Merida, but as our plan A did not seem to work out  right away we had to search for an alternative. Wikipedia described Merida as a forgotten beauty which tourists rarely go to; perfect! The first evening we explored the city a little bit, and were impressed by its colourfulness and liveliness. In many ways, it was 100% different from Cancun.  We found a nice and cheap place to have dinner. We had some great tacos accompanied by a drink, and all that for about  $5. The city itself is very pretty, it has a lot of nice squares and shops and restaurants. On the streets, they serve the nicest hotdogs for less than a dollar. Our hostel was located on the main square and from the rooftop, we had a view on the city’s cathedral (located on the same square). During our visit, Merida was decorated in the national colors because of a large Mayan festival which was going on. Unfortunately, exactly on the day on which we decided to attend the festival, it started to rain terribly. No different from Cuba, stuff gets shut down as soon as it rains. Earlier that day, when it was still dry, we visited the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya to get to know some more on the Mayan culture.

At out hostel we heard that there was a tour during which you could see huge colonies of thousands of flamingos, which sounded really cool to us and we therefore decided to do it. It did also include some other activities. First, we took a boat into a mangrove forest in which we could swim in three cenotes (sinkholes). We enjoyed a great swim in a very blue lake surrounded by the mangrove forest, while having to protect our bags from not being robbed by raccoons. However cute they seem, I still haven’t forgotten the day I got robbed from my delicious sandwich by a monkey at Koh Phi Phi, and I didn’t want that to happen again. Next, we drove to the lake where the flamingos would be living. We were expecting to encounter a huge colony of flamingos, but this was unfortunately not the case. Flamingos live in shallow waters as this makes it easier for them to feed themselves. As it had been raining during the past few days,  the water level had risen and therefore many had left in order to find their food elsewhere. We were a bit disappointed, but still there were quite a lot of them and it was cool to see these animals in their natural habitat. Fun fact, flamingos are born with white feathers and the older they get, the more pink they become. The waters in which they live contain pink algae. These are eaten by the shrimps, and the shrimps are eaten by the flamingos from which they become more pink the older they get. The most pink flamingos are therefore the oldest. Lastly, we went to visit one of the locations where the Mayans used to retrieve salt from the sea water. The method they invented for retrieving salt is now used all over the world, quite cool. There were about 10 small lakes which all contained a pool of seawater of about 30cm deep, which was very pink caused by the algae I spoke about earlier. The idea is that the water evaporates and that the salt remains. We walked through the water and we were totally surprised by how warm the water was, which guessed this was because of the high concentration of salt in the water. I decided to taste the water; this was a mistake. It’s so incredibly salty! Afterwards, we still declared the day to be a successful one, despite the slight disappointed regarding the flamingos.

Yokdzonot

Next up was quite a special one as it would bring us close to one of the seven world wonders (the plan A I mentioned earlier). We were very excited about the sleeping place that we booked and were not disappointed.  It’s called the Yokdzonot Mayan Retreat, and it’s really a little paradise in the jungle. The place only had two little bungalows and we were alone on the first night. There was a large outdoor kitchen available with a bar and two tables. You are literally in the middle of the jungle, such a great feeling of freedom that we didn’t encounter to that extent before, which gave us such a great feeling of freedom. Upon arrival, I started doing my laundry under the shower as I was running out of clothes. Afterwards, we headed into town as we wanted to start cooking by ourselves as we felt like this was a great opportunity for it (and there wasn’t really any other option). Anne was really excited about it as she missed cooking very much. We headed into town to buy some groceries, and eventually managed to find something to work with in this tiny village.  I’m lucky to have Anne with me in this one as she manages to create a great meal out of anything. So while I was studying some Spanish by the bar and while the rain started pouring around us, Anne was preparing our food.

The morning after we got up “early” and found our way to the village’s main/only attraction, the cenote of Yokdzonot. We walked towards the railing for a first glimpse of the huge hole in the otherwise relatively flat environment. There is about 50 meters of emptiness between you and the other side, and about 20 meters below us was a 25 meter deep layer of water. From there we had to circle around the cenote to get down, both of us very excited to get a better view. Once on level with the water, we were amazed by the impressive surroundings. The walls are steep and rocky with large stalactites bungling above the water and covered by lianas and trees. The water is incredibly blue and fresh as it is cleaned by the numerous catfish which live in the waters, and as the cenote is connected to other cenotes by underground streams.  The sun is shining happily from above through the opening in the jungle, and the swallows fly around in the hole and seem to enjoy the place as much as we do. If you are quiet you can here the zooming of a bee’s nest somewhere up in the rocks and the water drops falling down from the leaves. For the Mayans back in the day, cenotes were sacred ground. At present time, the Mayan people are dependent on it as the visiting tourists make a good income for them. We were told that there are over 4000 cenotes in Mexico, but none as beautiful as this one. Normally, this place is crowded with tourists, but as we stayed in the area we were able to go there hours before other tourists from Cancun and Tulum (day tours) would arrive. We were entirely by ourselves, just the two of us! We had a great couple of hours swimming and relaxing here, and we miss it already.

What was waiting for us the next day wasn’t that bad either though, as we were visiting one of the seven world wonders and one of the most important Mayan cities, Chichen Itza. Again, we made sure to be there around opening time so we wouldn’t be bothered by the thousands of tourists driving down there from the resort areas. From the entrance we walked right into the famous pyramid Kukulcán, which was very impressive to see. You might recognize the temple with its stairs on each of the four sides from pictures you have seen somewhere before. After our first encounter with the monument, we would stroll around the rest of the city, which was actually much bigger than we expected. The road brought us back to the monument and each time we took another few minutes to look at it. It’s difficult to imagine that Mayan people had lived in this place from the year 987.

We enjoyed our last evening in our little jungle paradise chatting and having a few drinks with our new friends Iris & Brandon, who had arrived in the jungle the day before.

Tulum

We were a little sad to leave Yokdzonot at it was a pretty chill place, but we had already booked the bus and a hostel in Tulum while in Merida. This for the reason that we knew that we wouldn’t have any internet in Yokdzonot. The new hostel wasn’t too bad though, as it had a pool and served dinners for about $5 (bbq/pizza, such things). On two of our days in Tulum we rented bikes. On the first, we toured along the beach during which we made a stop at a very chill beach club and had a delicious fresh fruit juice. Afterwards, we met up with our friends from Yokdzonot and relaxed on the beach beds of a sort of resort. The second biking day, we joined a couple of guys from our hostel who were touring up to two cenotes in the area of Tulum, which turned out to be beautiful as well. Both cenotes were connect to each other under the surface and it was possible to scuba dive from the one to the other. Really cool, but we decided not to do it as we are trying to safe a little bit of money. Maybe for another time. The other two days, we decided to relax at the pool of the hostel and spend some time reading, swimming, writing this blog, cooking, making plans and chatting with other travelers.

So that was the second country of our trip, Mexico. I hoped you enjoyed reading about it! Feel free to let me know what you think in the comment section below. Also, I can’t tell everything that we experience unfortunately as this would simply be too much to tell. If you may have any questions about what we did, don’t hesitate to ask. We really liked Mexico a lot, even much more than we expected beforehand. The nature is just so incredibly beautiful, the atmosphere is super chill, both the locals and the other travelers are really kind and its history is very interesting. We expect to come back to this great country someday, as we know that there is so much that we haven’t seen. However, for now our direction is south. We are heading for Guatemala, where our first stop will be Flores. Here, we plan to do a Spanish language course and afterwards, we are planning to support the countries nature and wildlife by volunteering in some of the great projects that are going on in the country.

I’ll write to you soon again,

Cheers!

4 thoughts on “Mexico: Whale Sharks, Cenotes, Jungles, Chitzen Itza and Beautiful Beaches”

    1. Ha die Boris, dankjewel en wat leuk dat je het hebt gelezen. Nee we hebben geen tour gehad, dat was helaas iets te duur. Weetjes heb ik wel! Als je voor een van de trappen van het monument gaat staan en je klapt, klinkt de echo als het getjielp van een hele mooie vogel. Wat veroorzaakt wordt door de trapvorm. Daarnaast, 2 keer per jaar schijnt de zon op een dusdanige op de tempel, dat het lijkt alsof er een slang via de trappen naar beneden kruipt. Hiermee verwezen de mayas naar de god Kukulcán, voor wie de tempel gebouwt is en wiens naam gevederde slang betekent. Geweldig toch.

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