Our journey through Mexico in pictures


Mexico was  only the second country of our trip, but we (unexpectedly) fell in love with the country and extended our stay there again and again – in the end we spent 88 days there, and traveled more than 3600 kilometers (2370 miles) through the country.

Reminiscing (yes, again), we looked through our thousands of photos and decided to take you on a photographic tour of our journey through Mexico:

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The cenotes near Cuzama are no Disneyland, but the day out has a magical feel all its own

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The word ‘magical’ is severely overused, and sets expectations too high for almost any destination. The city of Merida , on the Yucatan peninsula, had been described on blogs and in articles as ‘magical’ and we were headed there after spending five days in San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas , which we really might actually describe as magical. Of course we expecting a bigger, even better San Cristobal. After a stroll through the city center, however, we were nothing more than disappointed with our first impressions of the place.

Were we already jaded travelers? Was San Cristobal really just that beautiful? Maybe we were missing something, we thought, so we asked the owner of our B&B for suggestions on what else there is to see in and around Merida . He mentioned the well-known tourist sights in the area: the fishing village of Celestun and the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun. He then mentioned a visit to three cenotes. But not by car or even by bicycle. These cenotes are reached by riding on horse drawn carts (note: not carriages, these were far from romantic) on centuries’ old train tracks through the jungle. This sounded just quirky enough to recapture that magical feeling we were looking for on our visit to Merida .

The next morning we hopped on a ‘colectivo’ mini-bus to Cuzamá, a small town in the middle of nowhere an hour from Merida . There we were left on a deserted town square with four other gringos at the mercy of the overpriced bici-taxi drivers who would then take us to the even more in the middle of nowhere spot to start our cenote adventure. Fifteen minutes, and one huffing and puffing bici-taxi driver later, we arrived in the small village and the bici-taxis stopped next to a bunch of scrawny, hungry-looking horses chilling out in the shade of the trees along some old rusty tracks.

The tracks seemed to be old train tracks, but smaller, with some leading into high grass, while others were disconnected and broken. Why so much info about some discarded tracks, you say? It turns out these tracks were not broken or discarded at all. Once used to transport agave plants to factories which made very in-demand rope, these small-gauge tracks are now used daily as a means to reach the cenotes. After about five minutes of the typical semi-lost gringo staring, a few lingering older Mexican men started to put little wooden carts on these tracks, prepared the horses and signaled us to get in the carts.

We sat down on one along with a friendly man from the Netherlands, our driver jumped in and the horse started to pull our cart on these not-broken-at-all tracks into the woods. Our first sign of magic, indeed! After 10 minutes riding at full speed down the rusty old tracks together with a now overly-friendly Dutchman, we arrived at the first cenote. This was clear by the other carts and horses to the left and the right of the tracks.

Anyone who spends some time on the Yucatan will quickly learn about cenotes, as the peninsula is full of them.  These subterranean swimming holes can be almost completely open, like a pond, or be hidden underground with a roof of rocks. Filled with stalagmites just like a cave, they are only accessible by climbing blindly down a ladder through small entrance holes into the pools below.

The entrance to the first cenote was slightly open, so we could see a few families and a group of English people swimming as we climbed down the wooden stairs. The rock hollowed out into a deep cave in the back and bats whizzed back and forth overhead. Stripping down to our suits, we quickly joined in, only to be called out thirty minutes later (although all of this is seemingly very unofficial, your driver does keep you on a strict schedule, with thirty minutes at each of the three cenotes).

We climbed up out of the cool blue pool and headed, sopping wet and now half-dressed, to the next cenote along the rickety tracks. This time, broken stairs lead into a nearly covered, much darker cenote. Children swam around the 20 meter-long roots hanging from a tree which had grown on top of the ceiling as sunlight shot in through the hole and illuminated the subterranean pool.

Up, out and back on the horse cart, we bounced, banged and bumped our way to the third cenote, which had the smallest entrance of them all. The end of the ladder leading down was completely hidden and so it was based on blind faith and the echoes of happy swimmers splashing below that we lowered ourselves into the last of the cenotes.

Once inside, the easiest way in to the water was just to let go and jump. The dramatic entrance aside, the water here was equally as clear and blue, with schools of tiny fish circling our feet.

Our driver had to come over yet again and fish us out in order to return back to village on the same bit of track we arrived on. The route is not circular, which means that, as we were speeding in one direction, there had been several carts speeding on the same track toward us (if train A is driving at 20mph and train B is riding at 30mph in the opposite direction, how long until they crash?, that sort of thing). Shortly after we began our return ride, a pair of carts approached from the opposite direction. We got off, and the driver lifted and pulled the heavy cart off the track himself. We let the two carts go by, and then the cart’s tiny iron wheels were laboriously set carefully back onto the track. We continued on our way until the next pair of carts came and we dismounted again. The driver explained that when only one cart meets two carts, the single cart must voluntarily de-rail. And if two carts approach two carts, I ask. It doesn’t happen much, he says. It seems that they have a system, and even if we don’t know exactly how it works, it works all the same. As if by some form of magic.

Although the experience is a bit rough around the edges, we would definitely recommend a day trip out to these cenotes near Cuzamá. It’s adventurous, original, well-hidden in the middle of the forest and an experience unlike any other cenote visit on the Yucatan – such as the easy access ones near Valladolid or the severly overpriced ones around Playa del Carmen.

Cost: 20 Pesos for the colective to Cuzamá (return), 50 Pesos return for the bici-taxis and 200 Pesos per cart (up to 5 people) for the 2.5-hour tour. Total in US Dollars for a couple: $15.

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33 things we love about Mexico

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After 11 wonderful weeks, we Globetrottergirls are finally moving on from Mexico. On the bus on our way to Belize, we were already reminiscing about our time here, and came up with 33 things we love about Mexico. Here we go, in no particular order:

1. Mexican Food – Mexican food is completely different to what we expected, but it turns out we love almost all of it! From Tlayudas and panuchos to bean quesadillas and potato tacos plus chilaquiles and tortas (filled sandwiches – Mexico City has the biggest ones) it has been amazing to discover the food here!

2. Driving golf carts around the island of Isla Mujeres.

3. MexicansFriendliest people on the planet

4. Markets – Though at times they can be shocking (squealing pigs the minute before their eventual slaughter and large yellow chicken feet spring to mind) the markets in Mexico are amazing to explore. The 20 de Noviembre market in Oaxaca was our favorite for the best selection of food (including the hundreds of mounds of deep-fried grasshoppers!) and mezcal.

5. Cenotes – considering we had never even heard of these underground waterholes, swimming in the cenotes on the Yucatan felt a bit daring and definitely refreshing.

6. Huevos motuleños – Yes, yes, we already said we loved the food, but this all day breakfast food quickly became our favorite after we discovered them during a long wait in Palenque for a bus to Merida. Huevos motuleños involve a fried tortilla topped with black beans, fried eggs, sauce and plantains, plus ham for the meat-eaters out there. Heavenly!

7. Victoria beer – There, we said it. We love Victoria beer!

8. Mexico City – It’s a magnificent mega-metropolis which requires some patience and understanding, but Mexico City is a hub of creative, forward-thinking groups and individuals with art, markets, and music everywhere you turn. Sure it has its problems, but what city doesn’t? It’s the combination of it all that makes the city so great: Posh areas like Polanco are offset by more run-down parts of the Centro Historico where culture and tradition seep into your soul. How cool to see Mariachis and Mayans catching cabs, Mexican rock bands headbang on a plaza next to a salsa club, sleek and stylish club-goers passing by happy families in the park until the wee hours and openly gay men and women walking hand in hand with their partners more often than in any U.S. city we know of. Frida and Diego (Kahlo and Rivera that is) can be found everywhere, and there are hundred of art museums, exhibitions and co-operations with institutes world wide. Mexico City is chaotic, yet quaint, crazy and creative. We miss you Mexico City!

9. The Caribbean coast – especially Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, where you can walk 40 to 50 meters out into the crystal blue water and it only comes up to your knees…

10. Valladolid – we fell in love with this little lazy town on the Yucatan, but we’d like you to please not go there.

11. Mariachi Bands – always fun to listen to, even if they don’t quite hit the notes.

12. Agua fresca – We might actually be able to slowly wean ourselves off Diet Coke thanks to these giant one liter drinks of water blended with fruit. We especially like Cantaloupe and Guayaba ‘aguas’.

13. Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul – Stuffed with her art, personal belongings and pictures, it makes you feel like you really get to know her, plus the gardens are gorgeous.

14. The cattle in front of our house in San Luis Beltran, Oaxaca.

15. The colorful traditional clothes worn throughout Mexico, from the many wool variations to be found in Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas to the beautiful long white gowns embroidered with flowers that the woman of the Yucatan wear.  Oh, and real life cowboys!

Sure, we know this continues on from Guatemala down through South America, but there is also something so unifying about how even the non-indigenous men/women will wear very traditional Mexican clothing rather than identifying with global fashion. It seems like for many here, people are Mexican first, class/race/socio-economic status comes second.

16. Diego Rivera Murals in Mexico City – The murals are so insightful into Mexican history and culture, and you could spend more than a day hunting them all down throughout Mexico City. Diego’s influence as an artist was enormous here.

17. San Cristobal de las Casas – the prettiest colonial town we have seen so far.

18. The tacos from the taco vendor in Calle Uruguay – Near the bakery Pasteleria Ideal in #74  in Mexico City, you’ll see the large group of people crowded around the vendor – that’s the spot. Try an agua fresca here too – delicious.

19. Lizards galore! Mexico is filled with lizards big and small, from our pet gecko in our apartment in Playa del Carmen (and its subsequent tiny tiny little babies), to the giant iguanas in Tulum, Valladolid, Isla Mujeres and Chichen Itza. Plus we have come within a few feet of countless crocodiles, something we never thought was possible!

20. The historical ruins – The Mayan and Aztec ruins in Mexico are so majestic! We visited Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Palenque in Chiapas, Tulum and Chichen Itza on the Yucatan.

21. Mexican bakeries  – Even just window-shopping makes our (read: Dani’s) mouths water. Cakes, fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits, cupcakes, sweet breads and freshly baked rolls are all delicious.

22. Cheladas and Micheladas –Beer mixed with tomato juice, salt, pepper and hot sauce. This is basically like a Bloody Mary but beer replaces vodka. Genius!

23. The tuk-tuks in Oaxaca.

24. Mexican buses –  The buses in Mexico are top standard, reliable and clean. ADO, OCC and Oriente all provide great service, though ADO’s films and air-conditioning are good for longer trips (more expensive, though).

25. Hostal La Candelaria in Valladolid. The best hostel we stayed at in Mexico. Clean rooms, two kitchens (one outside), a gorgeous garden, and very friendly owners. Plus two of the cutest little Chihuahuas of all time.

26. Free wi-fi – In any public park or square in even the smallest city/town, at least a dozen people can be found with their laptops, not only using the free wi-fi, but also charging their computers. The parks have outlets for charging! Who needs Starbucks, when you can have free wi-fi in the park!

27. Lucha Libre – Mexican Wrestling rocks. Yes, it’s fake, but the crowd goes crazy and we loved it!

28.  Policemen, on horses, preferably with sombreros.

29.  Fruit in a bag, freshly cut and topped with spices & lime, for $1.00.

30.  Getting our laundry professionally washed – For less than $4, a lady with a brand-new washer and dryer will scrub out stains, wash and dry your clothes and then iron them all down, flat as pancakes, leaving you with a stack of clothes a quarter of the size of the dirty, stinky ball you brought to her.

31. Mexican mannequins. How can you not love ‘em? 😉

32. Meeting people from the online travel community – offline. So many bloggers come through Mexico or live here. It was especially great to meet up with  Elmar and Rebecca for breakfast in Puebla (thanks to Mark from MexicoUnmasked!) and get some great insider tips , plus our tour of Cholula with Elmar, and getting to know WanderingEarl in Playa del Carmen.

33. The fact that we came to Mexico! We had so many naysayers warning us to avoid Mexico at all costs that we considered skipping Mexico altogether. For about a minute, that is, until we decided that we would rather see for ourselves the situation here than skip it. We couldn’t be more thankful for that.

What are your favorite  things about Mexico?  Let’s reminisce together in the comments below!

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Polaroid of the week: Temple of the Jaguar

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Chichen Itza is one of the best known Mayan ruins in all of Mexico, and has been voted one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. The 5 sq km site is filled with intricately-designed temples, bath houses, and religious sites, like the Temple of the Jaguar above.  Jaguars are a common symbol in Mesoamerican art and can be found on many of the temples. They stand for strength, confidence and divinity.

The site is dominated by the main Castillo, a  pyramid with 90 steps to the top on all four sides, built by the Maya between 600 – 900 AD.

The Maya name “Chich’en Itza” means “Mouth of the well of the water-sorcerer.” Since the Yucatan peninsula has no above-ground rivers, retrieving water was only possible through natural sinkholes called cenotes. Chichen Itza has two cenotes, one of which is the Cenote Sagrado, or Sacred Cenote where skeletons of sacrificed men and children (!!)  have been discovered, along with valuable objects such as gold, pottery, jade and copper.

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The two faces of Playa del Carmen: A walk up the ‘famous’ 5th Avenue

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Anyone who has been to Playa del Carmen knows 5th Avenue, or ‘Quinta Avenida’ in Spanish. That is, if you ever needed to use your Spanish while you were in Playa.  As we made our way down 5th for the first time, we were shocked at just how Americanized this once sleepy fishing village had become. 5th Ave is Playa’s main street, and has been carefully created for tourists. You can pay in U.S. Dollars everywhere, and the prices at restaurants and in shops lean more toward prices in the U.S. than the rest of Mexico. (Pizza, and there is a lot of Pizza in Playa, can be even more expensive – much to our pizza loving dismay).

We rented an apartment to the far northern end of town, out of this ‘tourist zone’ and we quickly discovered that there are two faces to Playa’s 5th Avenue:

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Please don’t go to Valladolid…

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Please don’t go to Valladolid – I’d like to keep this town for myself… Valladolid was only supposed to be a quick stop before our month-long stay in Playa del Carmen, but it turned in to one of our favorite places in all of Mexico. We’d like it to stay that way…

Parque La Candelaria valladolidThe sleepy colonial town in the center of the Yucatan peninsula has a classic, authentic feel. It is the kind of place which is somehow still devoid of major tourism despite its proximity to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and several beautiful cenotes. The town is exactly what I picture when reading the magical realism of Latin American literature, usually stories set in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Though most towns on the Yucatan don’t have a main square, or Zocalo, Vallodolid has a large, beautifully-designed, clean main square. It is the type of relaxing centre where children play, old men watch the world go by and couples canoodle. It is a place to relax and lose yourself in the to-ing and fro-ing of the locals.

Zocalo Fountain & Benches valladolidThat is not to say that Valldolidad is stuck in the past. Restaurants for all price ranges are available in town, and the Zocalo has both a higher-end wine and cheese restaurant as well as an indoor food market with several restaurants serving up delicious local fare on the cheap. Valladolid has a small cinema, plenty of bars and a good range of shops for clothes and also tourist trinkets. While the town is easily small enough to explore on foot, there are plenty of bike rental places to visit the surrounding areas on two wheels. Part of the magic of the place might have to do with our hostel. Valladolid is still small enough that when exiting the bus station, the shop directly across the street has an advert for La Candelaria, a hostel that sat on a nearby square called La Candelaria. This hostel is exactly how we would run a hostel after taking all the experience acquired from traveling and staying in everything from five-star hotels to the dankest and dirtiest of hostels. La Candelaria has fresh, clean rooms, comfortable beds, cable TV and the dorms are open, light and airy.

Breakfast is not served as much as it is simply ‘made available’. Serve yourself bread and coffee, and freshly cut fruit bowls are laid out in the main kitchen, which is in a covered outdoor area that stretches far back and encompasses two chill-out spaces, the kitchen, and an area with three hammocks. Inside, there is a second kitchen (both have full cooking facilities, fridge, and clean (!) cutlery and dishes) and a TV room for guests who stay in the dorms. Cool cruiser bikes are for rent for 15 pesos per hour – great for exploring the nearby cenotes Samula and X-Keken located 7 km from town. The owners are super friendly, the showers are very clean, and there are two chihuahuas and a couple of friendly cats for animal lovers to play with as well.

After a month in Playa del Carmen, where over-priced tours to Chichen Itza include a quick stop-off in Valladolid, we have decided to return to this romantic town to soak up a few last days of Mexico before leaving for Belize. Who knows when and if we will ever have the time or chance to return to Valldolid. More importantly, who knows if Valladolid will have kept its charm in the meantime, as more and more tourists discover the town.

This is why we’d like you not to go to Valladolid. And if you do go (which you really should) please don’t tell anyone else about it…or at least tell them to keep it quiet too….

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Polaroid of the week: Hard at work in Merida

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The Zocalo in Merida is home to several shoe shine men and boys, as are most central parks or squares throughout Mexico and Central America. We stopped to talk to him because of that adorable (and very pregant!) black cat.

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Polaroid of the Week: Valladolid, Yucatan

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Valladolid is a little town on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula where we decided to stop for a couple of days on our way to Playa del Carmen. Although Valladolid is with a population of 45,000 considerably big, it has more the feel of a sleepy Mexican village, with pastel colored colonial buildings and a tranquil town center. A lot of the women still wear the typical Mayan dresses and sell hand-made dresses and other crafts around the town square. Valladolid is mainly famous for a cenote (underwater sinkhole) in the town center and the nearby Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, however, it has luckily been spared by mass tourism (so far).

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