3/01/2016

Travel Diary - Yucatán Peninsula Part 1: Valladolid


Recently B and I took a 10 day vacation where we roadtripped around the Yucatán Peninsula. When it comes to vacations, I'm a type A planner and B likes to show up and see what happens. To me, planning the trip intensifies my excitement, giving me something to look forward to in the weeks leading up to the vacation. For him, it's a bundle of over planning stress. In order to satisfy both our needs, B gave me full reign of the entire vacation planning, meaning he had no idea where we were going or what we were doing until we showed up at the airport.

For this trip, I wanted a mix of adventure and relaxation and I wanted to stay under our agreed upon budget. After researching several other locations, I ultimately landed on a road trip through the Yucatan for a perfect mix of unknown adventure, history, culture, and beaches. After a one night stay in Cancun, we headed to Valladolid. Lots of people love Cancun. I am not one of those people. So we chose to stay near the airport and on the beach at the Westin. We had a great room that walked out to the ocean and were able to avoid the craziness of the downtown center. We are not typically resort people (often preferring off the beaten path locations and accommodations), but after a day of traveling it was really nice to enjoy a bit of luxury at the Westin.

After a good night's rest, we got up and began our road trip, heading to Valladolid. I knew very little about this town, beside it being close to several of the ruins and cenotes. There's not a ton to do in this historic town, but it's a great central location to explore the surrounding attractions. We also enjoyed a lazy afternoon stumbling upon the town's cenote (cenote Zaci - literally in the middle of town) and searching for the perfect tacos.

Headed to Valladolid? Here are my recommendations and tips:

Where to Stay:
- El Mason de Marques is where we stayed and had a great experience. It's right in the middle of town, which is great starting off point for exploring.
- Hotel Zentik Project is where I originally planned to stay. It is outside of town (so having a car would be helpful if you stay there), but the place looks amazing and sits on top of an underground pool cave.

Where to Eat:
- We had an amazing dinner in the outdoor courtyard of our hotel, El Mason de Marques. The food is great and the atmosphere is romantic. 
- La Cantina is a great little casual restaurant on the plaza. Perfect for afternoon tacos and beers. 
- Conato 1910 is an Italian/Mexican fusion restaurant with lots of vegetarian and vegan options. The place doesn't look like much, but the food was fantastic. 

What to Do:
- Check out the Mayan ruins. Ek' Balam was appealing because it's one of the few ruins you can climb on and really explore. It also is less known and had very few tourists (compared to other ruins which were overrun with tour buses full of people. More on that in the next post.).
- Swim in the cenotes. These underground caves are amazing. Go early when no one else is there so you have the place to yourself. We went to the cenote near Ek' Balam and it was totally abandoned (it's a mile and a half walk to get there which seemed to deter other visitors).
- Take a road trip to the northern coast. See the flamingos in Ria Lagartos. Bring cash! There are no ATMS in town (or anywhere nearby) and the boat rides to the lagoon are cash only. We learned this the hard way and made the drive without enough money to actually see the flamingos. All was not lost though. We had an amazing lunch of fresh seafood overlooking the water at Ria Maya.
- If you go up to the northern coast, head east and check out the salt mines and pink lagoon. It's pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it's a beautiful drive and seeing the water turn pink from the salt mines is fascinating.

Tips:
- If you rent a beater convertible and the rental company offers to upgrade you for free to a Camaro, politely decline (unless you like lots of attention).
- Keep a bathing suit in your car as you travel around. You never know when you'll stumble upon a cenote and want to take a dip.
- Have cash on hand or research where the ATMS are, which seem to be lacking outside of the main towns throughout the peninsula.
- If roadtripping around, bring a playlist and auxiliary cord for tunes. Definite mood booster on long car rides.
- Show up at the ruins and more popular cenotes early to avoid the crowds. It makes a huge difference in the experience you'll have.

Stay tuned to see where we head to next!