While a lot of people begin their journey through Mexico from Yucatan, most of them stop on the Caribbean coast. It is beautiful, sure, but too full of tourists if you ask me. Everyone speaks English and when you enter a store or a restaurant saying “Hola!” you will hear “Hello, how are you today?” in return. It’s a wonderful place for a stress-free holiday, diving with green turtles and trying some amazing Mexican food. And if in addition you would like to venture yourself to the heart of Yukatan and meet the real Mexicans, follow me.
1. Rio Lagartos
This little village on the Caribbean coast is home to Pink Flamingos. They live and breed in the shallow waters nearby. You can rent a boat with a guide in order to see them. It’s very easy, you just need to walk to the peer and ask when the next boat is leaving. I recommend to arrange it the day before in order to leave early in the morning. If you ask for Pio, you will not be disappointed. He has been living there his whole life, has a few boats and very knowledgable guides.
Rio Lagartos means “The Aligator River” and you can see those animals only a few meters from the village. Just follow the Malecon Rio Lagartos until Chiquila restaurant, the entrance to the mangrove is in the right. It’s called Sendero Peten Mac.
The village is very calm, it has a few restaurants on the seaside and maybe 3 hotels that are not even listed on Booking.com. The white, sandy beach is only accessible by boat, but it’s completely empty, so it’s worth a trip. It is a perfect place for relaxing and enjoying a local life. Sunrises are to die for. You can even spot a family of flamingoes flying by as the sun goes up. After the sunrise, head to the local market for breakfast. You will see locals stopping by to pick up tamales and fresh fruit. If it’s Sunday, go for una torta de cochinita pibil. I still dream about that sandwich, a few years later.
2. Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas is a small village next to Rio Lagartos. It is famous for its pink lakes. They owe their amazing color to a very high density of salt, the algae, plankton, and shrimp that live in this kind of environment. Fun fact: the flamingoes are pink because they eat those shrimps!
Salt is a big business around here. The seawater is being taken to shallow lakes, where it evaporates leaving only salt behind. Therefore you can observe loads of pink lakes around the area. Most of them are closed for tourists, due to salt production, but there are a few that you can have a swim in.
The capital of Yucatan is the cultural center of the peninsula! You have a great choice of museums, art galleries, markets and shows being organized almost every day! Merida is not as often visited by foreign tourists as the Caribbean coast, so all the shows are really authentic, as they are being produced for the locals, by the locals. I highly recommend going to the Tourist Information Center to get the agenda of the week and plan your stay in Merida. I have seen some beautiful dance performances, a peace of theatre in a small plaza in the center as well as the laser animation about the history of Merida on the front of the cathedral.
Merida is also called “la Ciudad Blanca” – the white city. It doesn’t have anything to do with the architecture. From 16th to the 19th century the center on the city was reserved for the white inhabitants. The Mayans and African workers had to live outside of the designated area.
Merida is a good place to try Marquesitas – thin waffles rolled up with gouda cheese and Nutella. Weird? Sure, but surprisingly tasty.
4. Cenotes Cuzama
This was an experience I will never forget. Those cenotes are stunning and completely empty! It was just me, a friend of mine and the horse cart driver. What? The Horse cart driver? Yes, the only way to get to those cenotes is by a small horse cart driven on what looked like mine rails. The way there was fun on its own, but the cenotes were incredible! The entrances are not easy, sometimes you just have a ladder that lands in the water, or you can go to a cave that only has one light installed and swim in its extremely clean, but dark waters.
How to get there: Take a collectivo from Terminal Noreste to Cuzama. Tell the driver that you are going to cenotes. He will drop you off in front of the moto-taxi stop – they will take you to the horse carriage stop. Once you are there, negotiate your ride and have fun!
5. Laguna Bacalar
They say that it has 7 shades of blue. But I swear it might have even more! This magical place is mostly popular with local tourists and it’s a pity! This Lagoon lays just outside of Chetumal, in the south of the Yucatan peninsula. Bacalar is a small, relaxed village, where you can rent a kayak or a SUP and paddle out for a sunrise. The rest of the day can be spent in a hammock, gazing out on the lagoon. I brought a book, but I wasn’t able to read it, the view was just too beautiful.
This Caribbean village is very popular with Mexicans. Instead of going to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, this is where they come for holidays. It’s a very small and calm place with a wide range of restaurants to choose from and some nice hotels. The coral reef is 100 meters from the shore, so just grab your snorkeling kit and have fun! (don’t leave your backpack on the beach though, even if there is nobody. This is how I lost my phone. Stupid, I know.) If you are a diver, Banco Chinchorro, the most popular diving spot of this part of the Caribbean is easily reachable by boat.