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There is Mexico and there is the Mexican state of Yucatan. The former gets a lot of negative (and often unfair) press and the latter hardly gets mentioned (unlike the resorts of next-door state Quintana Roo, Cancun and the Riviera Maya). Being inquisitive slow-travelers who prefer the “unusual,” we did a lot of research and discovered the essence of a fascinating destination.
Why the Yucatan Peninsula?
The Mayan Culture
The Yucatan Peninsula in the country's south has a mystical vibe due to the ancient Mayan civilization, founded here about 2600 BC. These ingenious people developed astronomy, calendrical systems, hieroglyphic writing and built magnificent ceremonial architecture.
The Mexican state of Yucatan promotes dozens of well-maintained Mayan temples/pyramids with palaces surrounded by intact ancient villages that have been carved out of the dense jungles… picturesque and dramatic vistas in every direction.
The Gastronomical Oasis
As slow-travelers always searching for culinary adventures we learned that this part of Mexico has a unique epicurean history… it is not “Mexican” it is “Yucatan” (yucateco) cooking.
We uncovered a hands-on cooking class being offered by the renowned chef David Sterling. His “Los Dos” school, which is located in capital Merida, tilted the scales in favor of taking this journey.
Arriving in Cancun
We flew into the modern Cancun airport and were greeted by the normal hoard of sales types promoting “free” timeshares, hotel and villa rentals as we walked through the “welcoming area”. As we stepped out of the terminal area, we were rewarded by a warm, lush, tropical atmosphere fragrant with flowers and palm trees.
We booked the Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas and Spa and arranged beforehand for their transportation service. Our good fortune was to be met by Rafael, who proved to be a perfect "ambassador of goodwill” with his welcoming personality, charm, national pride and simply being an endearing person.
We were greeted at the Westin by an efficient and pleasant desk staff and were soon settled into our spacious room overlooking the immaculately maintained grounds, bordered by a bright, white sandy beach that fades into multiple shades of azure ocean water…
Our day at the beach left an indelible memory. Envision warm sugar granules of beige and white sand that traces each squeaky footstep as you walk into the 80+ degree opaque, electric blue water…tranquility.
Now ready for a good meal, we headed to the front desk for dining suggestions. The concierge produced a few tourist menus that offered Americanized Mexican fare just like we can get back home.
We had something different in mind and asked for the local favorites and where she would take her family or friends… a new set of menus appeared offering real Yucatan dining and we selected the “La Habichuela Sunset” restaurant for our first night in Cancun.
The weather was perfect and we were seated at an outdoor, secluded and candle lit table overlooking the lagoon … the cuisine was exceptional with tastes that we never had before. A great way to get introduced to the Yucatan food scene.
Cancun to Mérida Decision Time: Fly, Bus, or Rental Car?
What is the best way to get there?
Option A - The flight from Cancun to the regional airport in Mérida was less than an hour, yet cost considerably more than the flight from Los Angeles to Cancun.
Option B – There is a bus system with a decent schedule offering local and express travel with different classes of service.
Option C – Rent a car from Hertz… a jeep would be appropriate in case we had to go off-road for any reason.
We made our decision and with a bit of trepidation, mixed with a sense of adventure and a strong desire to explore this unique part of our world, we booked the car.
The Drive to Mérida
The drive was 196 miles and took about three hours, with a rest stop at the toll booth at the halfway point. The facilities were immaculate and they offered a food service with fresh, reasonably priced options and plenty of variety. The toll was 355 pesos (about $30 USD) and we were glad we had pesos since credit cards were not accepted.
Toll booth at the midway point
Nothing behind us
After all the negative hype about the “bad guys”, the only attack that we experienced was from a swarm of beautiful blue butterflies that cropped up a few times during our pleasant drive…. so much for media drama.
Arrival in Mérida
Casa del Balam (The House of the Jaguar)
We selected a small, old-world hotel that was once a colonial mansion and is situated in the historic town center. The management maintained the charm and have kept some the original furnishings in the rooms and the open lobby area. Such a welcoming oasis after the drive.
The long day was topped off with a delicious meal of local favorites.
Tomorrow we will explore the city and uncover the hidden gems that await the adventurous traveler.
Our first impressions of the Yucatan have been excellent and reassuring. All of the negative hype proved to just that…hype. The people are amazing and the beauty of this region is remarkable.
We are looking forward to exploring Merida and the surrounding area…. But most of all the Los Dos cooking school which is why we are here in the first place.
Please follow our journey into the wonderful world the Yucatan Peninsula.
After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.
© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar
© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar, Mark S. Cox