Elena Kulikova lives in Amsterdam, studies to become a journalist, blogs about life in the Netherlands and enjoys extreme sports. She has already told us about her trip to South Africa, and now she shares a fresh itinerary for a very busy trip to Mexico.
Mexico and coronavirus restrictions
The American continent has long attracted me with its unique natural and cultural heritage. Mexico became my first country in the Western Hemisphere. The stunning Caribbean Sea, mysterious Mayan cities, unique flora and fauna, cenote ponds - all this became a decisive factor in choosing a destination for my next Traveling to Mexico in a pandemic.
Mexico is one of the few countries in the world that did not close itself from tourists even at the very beginning of the pandemic, and a year later removed most of the restrictions. Currently, only masks remain mandatory in all public places, including open-air, ubiquitous temperature measurement, and the use of sanitizers. 90% of all attractions are open to tourists. To enter the country, a covid test is not required, it was enough to fill out a health questionnaire on the website and receive a QR code.
From Amsterdam, we flew to Mexico City in 11 hours with the KLM airline. Upon arrival, we immediately checked into a hotel near the Camino Real Aeropuerto airport (Puerto México No. 80 Col. Peñón de Los Baños) to spend the night, and early the next morning to go to the first point of our trip - the state of Guanajuato and the city of the same name.
Guanajuato: the most beautiful city in Mexico
The distance between Mexico City and Guanajuato is about 400 km. The main ways to travel between cities are by bus and plane. By bus, this trip would have taken about 6 hours, so we decided to get there by plane. The flight from Mexico City lasted about an hour. We flew with the local airline AeroMexico. The cost of the flight is approximately $ 80.
Guanajuato is considered the most beautiful city in Mexico. Here you can find the very Mexican flavor that you anticipate when you get off the plane. Colored houses on the hills, the smell of cakes and local sweets, music and beautiful songs in Spanish, shops with bright souvenirs - for the sake of all this, it is worth including this place in your itinerary. The main sights of the city can be seen in a day.
Teatro Juarez theater building. The majestic building with columns and sculptures on the facade is worth a visit to get a complete impression of the city. Souvenirs from street vendors can be seen in the neighboring lanes.
Jardin de la Union garden. A very pleasant green oasis in the city center. Here you can sit on one of the benches in the shade of the trees by the fountain, go for lunch, or a cup of coffee in one of the cafes nearby.
Plaza Baratillo. In the center of the square is a fountain surrounded by colored, slightly shabby buildings. This place is very reminiscent of the typical squares and streets of small Italian towns.
Church Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato. The church is painted in bright orange color, so it immediately attracts attention. We went inside and accidentally got to the wedding ceremony. We sat on a bench with guests and several other tourists and watched the newlyweds swear vows to each other.
Mummies Museum Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Explanada del Panteón Municipal). Shown here are naturally preserved mummified bodies found in a crypt near the city. The exhibition looks eerie, sometimes it seems that the exhibits are ready to come to life at any moment. The museum is located on a hill with a beautiful view of the city. Entrance $ 4.
Lane of Kisses El Callejon del Beso. 2 opposite balconies on a narrow street are only 69 centimeters apart. They are considered to be the place for kissing. On these balconies, local photographers take unusual photos of couples in love.
Costal Cultura Cafetera (San José No. 4, Zona Centro) is a great place to dine after a busy day, where you can try ceviche and tacos, beefsteak, and tuna steak. And we settled at the Quinta Las Londras hotel (Silao Km 1 Colonia Marfil). It is slightly removed from the historic city center, but it is very convenient to get to the center by taxi - the trip took 10 minutes and cost about $ 2. You can call Uber, or use the services of local taxi drivers (green cars) on the spot, prices are about the same.
San Miguel de Allende: Mexican flavor
This city is fighting with Guanajuato for the right to be considered the most beautiful city in Mexico. In my opinion, Guanajuato still wins, but this town is also worth a visit. It has retained the same Mexican flavor, and there are fewer tourists here than in Guanajuato. Walking along the streets of the city, you can often see how cacti, agave grow, oleander, and jacaranda (violet tree) bloom.
A comfortable scheduled bus with air conditioning and even a TV, but only with Spanish films, took us from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende in just an hour. The cost of a round-trip ticket is $ 14.
Top attractions for one day:
Cathedral Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. The majestic cathedral rises on the central square of the city. I recommend watching it in the evening on a clear day. In the rays of the setting sun, it takes on a delicate pink hue.
Botanical Garden of Cactuses El Charco del Ingenious Jardin Botanico (Paloma S / N, Las Colonias). The garden area is quite large. There are very few tall trees here, so it is not very comfortable to walk under the scorching sun for a long time. Many cacti bloom, and there is also a closed greenhouse with rare plant species. The ticket price is $ 2.5.
El Mirador observation deck. From here, there is a beautiful view of the main cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel and Jacaranda, scattered with purple spots throughout the city.
Mercado de Artesanias souvenir market. Here you can buy souvenirs from local craftsmen - bags, wallets, figurines, etc. However, it has been observed that bargaining with sellers is quite difficult.
A great place for brunch is the Inside cafe (Insurgentes 66-Planta Alta, Zona Centro, Centro Histórico). I recommend taking avocado toast, it is called "El Smash" on the menu. The specialty of this cafe is the tables located on the roof. Even if everything is busy, I advise you to wait until a free one appears to enjoy the view of the city while eating. For dinner, we chose a Peruvian restaurant - La Parada (Recreo 94, Zona Centro). Here I recommend trying, of course, ceviche - a traditional Peruvian dish with salted fish, as well as cocktails based on pisco, Peruvian strong alcohol.
It is convenient to spend one day in San Miguel de Allende. We left Guanajuato by bus at 9:15 am and got back on the bus at 6:05 pm. Tickets can be bought in advance on the website.
Yucatan Peninsula: the most popular part of Mexico
The most visited part of Mexico - Cancun hangouts and beach vacations, the secluded paradise beaches of Tulum, ancient Mayan cities, cenotes, and national parks. Even the most sophisticated tourist will not be bored here. From Guanajuato, we flew to Cancun - the largest city in Yucatan. We flew with Volaris, the flight took 2.5 hours and cost $ 90.
There are many attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula, but they are located at a decent distance from each other, so for the convenience of movement we rented a car. We used Price Car Rentals. The rental price for 4 days is $ 220. Having taken a car, you should check the availability of gasoline. We were provided with a car with an empty tank, so we had to immediately look for a gas station.
The city of Valladolid is not of any cultural value, but it has a very advantageous location concerning the top attractions in Mexico. We spent 2 nights there at El Zaguan Colonial (Calle 41 277A, Bacalar) and visited locations in the surrounding area.
Reserves, reservoirs, and pyramids
The Mayan pyramid complex Chichen Izta is one of the new 7 wonders of the world. The main pyramid of Kukulkan (Pirámide de Kukulkán) rises majestically above the city, its height is 28 meters. The clarity of forms and symmetry are immediately striking, especially taking into account the prescription of the building (about 500 A.D.)
In addition to the main pyramid, other buildings of the ancient city have been preserved on the territory - smaller temples, colonnades, and a ball game stadium. Despite the large number of tourists, guides, souvenir merchants, and general chaos, it is quite possible to feel the atmosphere of this mysterious place. Better to arrive early, there will be fewer people and not so hot. To inspect the entire complex, photos, and souvenirs, you need to lay on average two hours. We bought tickets on the spot without queuing, they cost $ 25.
Cenote Ik Kil. Cenotes are natural wells formed by the collapse of the arches of limestone caves, in which underground waters flow. This is a unique creation of nature that can only be seen in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula and some of the Caribbean islands. There is a theory that they were formed from the fall of a meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Cenote Ik-Kil has located just 5 km from Chichen Itza, so there are always a lot of tourists here. The depth of the cenote is 50 meters! As soon as you enter the water, it immediately makes you feel a little uncomfortable because under your feet there is a real water abyss. It is obligatory to enter the water in life jackets. Rescuers strictly monitor this, so taking beautiful photos without a vest here most likely will not work. The water was pretty cold. I couldn't have spent more than half an hour in it.
This place is truly fantastic - you are swimming in a natural well, vines hang from above and water flows down in thin streams as if small waterfalls. True, they were created by man for beauty, but it all looks just fabulous.
Cost - $ 7.5. The ticket includes a visit to a cenote, lifejackets, and a storage box for personal belongings. For dinner, visit Yakunaj Cocina Mexicana (Calle 41 # 224A x 46 y 48, Centro). Traditional Mexican food, beautiful presentation, large portions, and fast service.
Reserve Rio Lagartos (Rio Lagartos). Arriving in the town of Rio Lagartos, we took one of the local guides to go on a boat safari on the lake. We drove through mangroves looking for crocodiles, but unfortunately, we saw only one small baby crocodile. We saw pink flamingos only in the distance, but we watched the pelicans fed by the guide from the boat next to us.
At the end of the excursion, we were offered to smear ourselves with medicinal mud, which we then washed off by swimming in the lake. The most fun part of the safari is the speedboat cruising across the lake. The tour lasted 2 hours and cost $ 50.
Pink lake Las Coloradas (Las Coloradas). The Pink Lake belongs to a local salt factory. Since this place became popular thanks to bloggers, it was fenced in and paid to enter. Moreover, each tourist is necessarily accompanied by a guide who makes sure that tourists do not come close to the water. In addition, we had only 30 minutes at our disposal, which, in principle, was enough to take a picture and admire this unique phenomenon. On the plus side, the lake does have a deep pink color in real life. The lake gets its brightest colors on a sunny day when the sun is at its zenith. The cost is $ 10.
Izamal city. We chose this place only for an overnight stay on the way of our route. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the little walk around the city center. All buildings here are painted yellow. This city has the typical flavor of small colonial towns in Yucatan: paving stones on the central streets, slightly shabby one-story buildings, carts with horses. We spent the night at the Hacienda Izamal (38 # 284, Guadalupe) and moved on along the route.
Cenote Yaxbacaltun. The peculiarity of this cenote is that here you can jump into the water from a small bungee. You can also take a picture in the water, taking off your life jacket, no one here strictly monitors the order. The water is clear, but it is a little dark inside, the light hardly makes its way into this natural well through the tree crowns on the surface. The cost is $ 2.5.
Ruins of Uxmal. A well-preserved major Mayan city. There are several times fewer people here than in Chichen Itza and there are many trees, so it was quite pleasant to walk around the territory. The height of the main pyramid of the complex is 38 meters. In addition to it, there are several other buildings on the territory, possibly serving as a monastery or school. You can look into them, but, of course, nothing has survived inside. On the territory, you can find quite large iguanas and beautiful birds. We spent about an hour and a half inspecting the entire city in detail. Cost - $ 23.
To get to the complex early in the morning, we stopped just a couple of kilometers from it at the Uxmal Resort Maya (Carretera Merida-Campeche Km. 78, Hopelchen-Uman). From the 3rd floor of the hotel, from the balcony, one could see the main pyramid of the Uxmal complex.
Cenote Suytun (Suytun). In the center of the reservoir, there is a platform on which light falls from a small hole in the rock from above. At different times, the platform can protrude above the water or be flooded. We found her underwater. To take interesting photos, I recommend coming to the opening. There were already too many people in the middle of the day. Cost - $ 5.
Cancun and surroundings
Cancun is considered the most touristic city in Yucatan. Tourists are mainly settled in large chain hotels located along the sea - this is the so-called hotelier's zone. The Caribbean Sea here, as in most resorts on the Caribbean coast, is of a beautiful turquoise color, calmer than in other coastal cities of Yucatan.
For 3 nights we stayed at the Presidente Intercontinental Cancun Resort (Blvd. Kukulcan Km 7.5, Punta Cancun, Zona Hotelera). The hotel has its own clean and beautiful beach, several swimming pools on-site, so you can have a great time here for a few days of classic beach holidays. On the downside, I can only refer to the fact that motorboats, water scooters, and other water transport were constantly passing next to the swimmers.
Cancun has everything that an ordinary tourist needs on vacation - restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, shopping centers. Here you can buy excursions to many of the attractions of Yucatan.
Isla Mujeres island. A true island paradise lost in the Caribbean. Tall palm trees with coconuts, turquoise watercolor - classic decorations from the Bounty advertisement. But we came here not only to admire the beauty. In Cancun, we went to the tourist counter in the mall and bought a Dolphin discovery tour, which included swimming with dolphins.
The tour involved a transfer to Isla Mujeres by boat (the journey took 45 minutes), various activities on the island: ziplines, snorkeling, swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, lunch. We were launched into a natural pool with dolphins in a group of 8 people. The event was very exciting, but I didn't like the organization. While waiting for our turn, we stood in cool water for a long time. It was forbidden to take telephones and cameras with you, even from the shore of dolphins in the water it was impossible to take pictures. During the voyage, we were constantly forced to pose for the photographer. The cost of one photo is $ 40, and the whole tour is $ 180.
Playa del Carmen. Another popular resort in Yucatan, which served as a staging post for us on the way to Tulum - to the final point of our Traveling to Mexico in a pandemic. This city is more partying than Cancun. But it attracts tourists not only with entertainment but also with beautiful tropical nature and beaches with white sand.
All-inclusive hotels are popular here. Prices, by the way, are lower than in Cancun. We settled in just one of these - Allegro Playacar (Lote Hotelero 7 Desarrollo, Playacar). The hotel, like in Cancun, has its beach, several outdoor pools, a tennis court, and animation programs throughout the day (stretching, water aerobics, Spanish lessons, evening concerts, etc.).
Tulum: Mexico's most fashionable resort
Here, the huge number of beautiful and fashionably dressed foreigners immediately catches your eye, as well as an abundance of equally fashionable shops, restaurants, and bars. Lost in the jungle on the seashore are designer eco-hotels, vegan cafes, and restaurants that become a hangout in the evenings. During the day, you can practice yoga or rent a bike to quickly explore the hotelier area along the beach. It is rather difficult to get around here by car. The road along the coast is very narrow, there are no footpaths, and the pits and speed bumps do not make the trip easier.
But, of course, Tulum is worth visiting for a beach holiday. There is everything here to enjoy nature in peace - the sea, the endless beach with white sand, and palm trees with coconuts. However, seaweed can be nailed to the shore, which is true the employees of coastal hotels remove from the beach every day.
In addition to paradise beaches, there are several interesting locations near the city:
Gran Cenote. This cenote is unique in that there is a beautiful color of water - from deep blue to turquoise, the colors are very bright even on a cloudy day. Bats fly in caves, and turtles swim in the water right next to people. In addition, here, unlike most cenotes, you can swim without a vest, the depth is shallow. On the downside: they check bags at the entrance and don't allow them to bring professional cameras with them. The cost is $ 15.
Ruins of Coba. This ancient Mayan city has survived slightly worse than Uxmal, but the atmosphere of the whole complex is impressive, because the whole territory is a jungle, and there are even crocodiles in the lake nearby. The pyramids of the complex are located at a distance of several kilometers from each other, so you can rent a bike to move faster. The height of the main Great Pyramid is 42 meters. Cost - $ 4.
We got to these locations in a rented car, it was also possible to take a taxi. The car was rented at the Allegro Playacar hotel in Playa del Carmen.
Cafes and restaurants in Tulum
Del Cielo (Satélite Sur 5, Tulum Centro, Centro): Smoothie bowls for all tastes and avocado toast ideal for a healthy breakfast.
Loco Tulum (Carretera Tulum Boca Paila Km 9.3): the menu includes various types of omelet, toast, fruit juices. Located in the hotelier's area.
Tamarindos (Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila Km 8.5, Tulum Beach): a great place to try seafood and a variety of cocktails.
La Corriente (Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila, Tulum Beach): seafood and classic Mexican cuisine on the menu.
Chambao (Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila Zona Hotelera Km 7). One of the most exclusive restaurants in Tulum specializing in steaks. During dinner, performances are held - musicians, trapeze artists, models showing dresses. The bill for two with one meal and drink was $ 160.
Lifehacks in Mexico
American sockets. In Mexico, American sockets are installed everywhere, so you won't be able to charge appliances with European plugs. It is better to buy in advance and take with you adapters for European plugs or a charger (external battery). In some hotels, on request, they were given to us, but not in all.
Spanish language. If you don't know the language at all, it is worth downloading a translator to your smartphone to communicate with the locals. In less touristy places, outside of Cancun and Tulum, few people speak English.
Kettles in hotel rooms. Surprisingly, even in 4 * hotels, there were no kettles in the rooms, so if you like to drink tea in the room, you will have to take the kettle with you. But there were coffee machines for filter coffee in absolutely every hotel.
Roads. In cities, especially small ones, roads are very bad. In addition, speed bumps are installed there almost every 50 meters. This significantly slows down movement, and there is also a risk of damage to the car.
Money. The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican peso. You should always have cash with you, because many places accept payment only in cash, except for hotels, restaurants of average and higher level.