Yesterday, my second Wandering Earl Tour came to an end. And I must say, it was a strange feeling to say goodbye to another group of splendid people, people whom I was fortunate to get to know quite well over the past two weeks.
I would absolutely love to continue traveling with everyone, to continue sharing experiences, to continue engaging in interesting conversations and to continue learning about each other and the places we visit.
But of course, such a trip must finish eventually and after fifteen days of wandering across Mexico, from the beaches of the Caribbean coast all the way to the central state of Oaxaca, while stopping in a variety of destinations along the way, the time has come to part ways with this group of ten fellow travelers.
However, in order to keep the memories alive (and to provide others with what I think is a great itinerary for a Mexico tour), I shall now give an outline of the route that we took during this Wander Across Mexico excursion. This will be a basic summary as I plan to write several posts, with much more detail, about this Mexico trip in the near future. There is just so much I do want to share!
Playa del Carmen
White sand beaches, turquoise waters, soaking up the sun, and unfortunately some rain…that sums up the first two days of this tour as we hung out in the laid-back, international beachfront community that is Playa del Carmen. Of course, we also ate at many of my favorite restaurants all over town, where we sampled alhambres, tostadas, empanadas, enchiladas, chilaquiles, tacos al pastor and other fine items, while often washing them down with a few beers, an activity that had a tendency to lead late into the night.
Tanned and ready to hit the road, we then left Playa in two rented vans early in the morning of day three. Our first stop would be the tiny town of Akumal where we all jumped in the water to snorkel with the sea turtles that swim around just off the shore. Luckily, we arrived at 7:30am, far before the crowds, and as a result we had the beautiful beach to ourselves, and every person in the group managed to see some turtles.
From Akumal, we continued south to Tulum, the Mayan ruins that are more well known for their impressive location atop a cliff along the Caribbean Sea than they are for the actual structures to be found there. We spent a couple of hours walking around the site before relaxing on the tiny idyllic beach located at the bottom of the cliff face.
And then we were off to Valladolid…
We spent two nights in this beautiful town, with its colorful pink, green, yellow and red buildings, cobblestone streets and lanes, picture-perfect cathedral-backed zocalo (main plaza), excellent local food market and Mayan chocolate shops, not to mention its friendly people, many wearing their traditional Mayan dress as they go about their daily business.
And just a few miles from the center of town lies the cenotes of Samula and X’Keken, which are underground water-filled caves that visitors can enter and even swim in. We went over to Samula and I think everyone in the group except for me jumped into the chilly water…
After leaving Valladolid on day five of the trip, we took the country road to Chichen-itza, probably the most well-known Mayan ruin site in Mexico, where we spent over three hours exploring the various groups of structures despite the extreme daytime heat.
We popped into a roadside restaurant for a quick, and delicious, lunch of roasted chicken, before we were back in our vans and back on the nearly-deserted, one-lane road that cuts through dozens of tiny Mayan villages in the Yucatan Peninsula. Two hours later we pulled into Izamal, the small town where just about every single building is painted yellow. It’s quite a sight to see and it amazes me that more travelers don’t spend time in this unique community.
While in Izamal, we walked around the streets, visited the old monastery (which is also yellow), hiked up to the top of the Kinich Kak Mo Mayan pyramid that sits at the edge of town, sipped some coffee in the main square and ate a variety of local Mayan dishes at one of the few sit-down restaurants.
The following day was a long one as we drove back to Playa del Carmen, a drive of about three and a half hours. And once we arrived, most of the group went straight to the beach for the afternoon before we all met up again at the bus station for our overnight bus to the town of Palenque, located some 12 hours away in the state of Chiapas.
Luckily, the bus, as is common with Mexican buses, was incredibly comfortable, with wide seats, plenty of leg room, two bathrooms and a relaxing environment that made it quite easy to catch at least a few hours of good sleep, which was a bonus considering that we arrived in Palenque too early in the morning to check into our hotel.
Instead, we just dropped off our bags, freshened up a bit and went straight back out, catching a colectivo (shared van) over to the Palenque ruins, another Mayan site dating back some 2200 years and set amidst the thick Chiapas jungle.
And in the end, despite being tired from the long bus journey and despite being in the midst of the busiest couple of days of the trip, I think just about every person in the group enjoyed Palenque more than the other ruins we had visited. It was actually my first time there as well and I thought it was the most impressive Mayan site I’ve seen…perhaps due to the fact that you are still able to climb up many of the temples, and as a result, marvel at the perfect views over the other ruins and the jungle below.
We only spent one night in Palenque and since there wasn’t much to do after visiting the ruins, we all had an afternoon rest followed by a local dinner in town and a nice little gathering on the roof top of our hotel where we had a few drinks, once again, well into the night…
San Cristobal de las Casas
The following day involved a late start in order to catch up on sleep before we boarded another bus, this time to take us on the 5.5 hour journey to San Cristobal de las Casas.
And once in San Cristobal, we all happily threw our luggage down in our rooms at our hostel, ready to spend the next four days exploring this town and the surrounding region.
While in San Cristobal we wandered all over this “Pueblo Magico”, embracing it’s colonial, lively atmosphere, climbing to the top of hills, visiting its most well-known cathedrals and historical sites, spending time at a local cultural museum, eating in a variety of restaurants, watching the concerts and dance performances in the main square and simply enjoying what has to be one of Mexico’s most beautiful and livable towns.
Of course, we also took a couple of day trips, including a boat ride through the massive Sumidero Canyon….
….and a visit to the fascinating Mayan communities of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula. If you haven’t read my post about San Juan Chamula yet, check out “The Most Amazing Church I’ve Ever Seen & Can’t Show You” in order to learn about the intriguing, secretive religion that is practiced inside of the main church.
Finally, on the fourth day of our stay in this beautiful region, and after everyone had a chance to roam around San Cristobal one last time, we went to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to the city of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca was the final stop of this tour and it was a great place to wind things down. It’s a vibrant, attractive colonial town that feels a little more European than the other places we visited. With its large bustling markets, atmospheric, tree-lined parks, highly-regarded local cuisine, trendy cafe culture, traditional mariachi bands in the main square, unique local crafts, beautifully lit cathedrals, pedestrian-only avenues, endless street performances and infinite number of food stalls, it’s no wonder that most visitors label Oaxaca one of their favorite destinations in all of Mexico.
We spent our first day here trying to do, see and sample all of the above, not to mention partaking in another Oaxacan activity, mezcal tasting at a local mezcal bar. Oaxaca is famous for its mezcal which is an alcoholic drink derived from the maguey plant. It should therefore come as no surprise that once the mezcal session was over, a session that involved several strong shots, we all magically found the courage to munch on some chapulines (local specialty of fried crickets) before our evening meal.
The next day, we somehow managed to wake up early and venture over to Monte Alban, home to a series of ancient Zapotec ruins perched above town on a small mountain. We spent a couple of hours roaming around the site, but we were struggling the entire time, due to both the heat and the very late night we had the night before (yes, another late night!).
After the ruins we stuffed our faces with tlayudas (massive fried tortillas covered with beans, cream, cheese, vegetables and for those who want, meat) in the local food market, had a much-needed afternoon rest and then went out for our final group dinner at a restaurant overlooking the main square.
And then we hit one last rooftop bar in the historic center for a quick farewell drink before the time came to start saying goodbye to each other.
All of a sudden, my second Wandering Earl Tour was over.
Before I end this post, I would like to thank every single person – Michelle, Lisa, Ken, Heather, Rashelle, Cindy, Queenie, Anastasia, Laura, Alison and Anil – for participating in this Wander Across Mexico Tour. I had an incredible time over the past two weeks and, as I sit here at the Oaxaca Airport about to board my flight back to the US, I have already begun to play our trip over and over again in my mind. And I’m smiling the entire time. You will all be missed greatly and I have no doubt that I will be talking about this tour for a long, long time!
[…] If you plan to stay around Merida for a couple of days, there are a couple side trips outside the city worth mentioning. Izamal is a charming town about 50 miles (80km) east of Merida. It’s known as the “Yellow City”, since the entire city center is painted with an ochre-yellow paint. Just overlooking the Izamal’s town center is the impressively large Kinich Kakmó pyramid, offering grand views free of charge. Wandering Earl thinks so highly of Izamal that he schedules a night there on his Wander Across Mexico Tour. […]
[…] Mexico has emerged as a great place to visit, with fantastic rainforests, beautiful beaches, incredible Aztec and Mayan ruins, great city life with great culture, and astounding wildlife. Already a popular travel destination for US residents, explore the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enjoy the Spanish influenced culture and cuisine. Stay in incredible rainforest lodges and world class resorts then visit a few of the colorful small towns and colonial styled cities, such as Guanajuato. Mexico City itself with its historic center has become a great tourist attraction with its many museums, art galleries, and attractions. Some travel bloggers who visited Mexico are Sarah from Sarahsomewhere.com and Earl from Wanderingearl.com […]
[…] Our Favorite Post for 2013: A Recap of my Wander Across Mexico Tour […]
I was just reading your blog and the issues you were referring to how we treat one another no matter where we are in this world. It just reminded my of our trip to bali. We were staying in legian at the time. And as usual you go on your daily trips to where ever that might be. As you do, we ended up in one of the shops in the road our hotel was facing. After a while of buying and talking to shop keepers, we became such good friends. And for the days following we were either hanging out there or talking to the locals down the beach. This is where I had to part with my shoes. One local took such a liking to my shoes, he preceded to ask me if he could have them. What do you make of that in your own mind? But it was such a natural thing for me just to give him my shoes, I didn’t even think about it. I suppose it’s got partly to do with how you got brought up, and maybe the collective life experiences you accumulate on your travels to what kind of person you eventually become. I enjoyed your blog.
Coincidentally, Julia and I have pretty much been on the same track as you guys did last month, but I guess that’s not that uncommon in the backpacking world. In Oaxaca now after SCDC, Palenque, Valladolid, Merida, and Tulum. Looks like you made sure everyone had a blast, keep up the good work, man!
[…] leader, who has already written quite a lot about the trip. You can find his articles here: Recap of Wander Across Mexico Tour I Bought A Zoo While Traveling in Mexico Is Mexico Safe To […]
So how would I go about signing up for your trip in November?
Hey Jenna – I will send you an email with more details about the tour in just a minute!
How can I sign up to your tours. Especially any future Mexico travels you may go on.
Hey Sy – If you send me an email to [email protected] I can let you know what tours I have coming up and we can go from there!
[…] recently as my travels around southern Mexico with Wandering Earl and his tour group, this question comes up frequently – what have you learned from seeing so much? And one thing […]
Really wish I could have been on this one! Amazing.
Hey Forest – We’ll get you on one eventually!
[…] great meal with Wandering Earl and his “Wander Across Mexico” […]
I start in Mexico City and then head over to the peninsula to get some sun and diving. Will be following a similar direction as your tour and then heading through the rest of Central America and South America until December/January 🙂
What an awesome adventure and it is all thanks to you.
Hey Rashelle – I must disagree my friend…it is all thanks to the brilliant group of people that joined the tour!
This is a great itinerary – glad you had so much fun! I hope I can go on one of your tours too, someday.
Hey Patricia – It would be great to have you join one so let’s hope it does happen!
Awesome Earl! Thanks for sharing your groups trip.
Sounds like the kind of tour I’d want to partake in. Looks awesome!
Hey Kristin – Then I shall look forward to the day you sign up for one 🙂
Hey Earl, Great recap! It brought back many memories of past trips through some of the same places you visited. As ruin sites are my passion, I’ve visited 28 Mayan ruins over the years. Palenque is also one of my favorites.
A little story: My first trip to Palenque was in 1975. We camped just outside of the site and were the first ones onto the site before sunup our first morning. We sat on top of the large pyramid and watched the sun come up over the site. We then noticed that there was an opening and a stairway down into the structure. We were the only ones there and decided it would be fun to go down in and see what was down there. We had flashlights as there were no lights. When we got to the bottom, there was a steel gate that looked like a jail door with bars. We shown our flashlights around and saw there was a carved stone slab behind the door. There was a bar missing from the bottom of the door, rusted out, and provided a hole just big enough for us to squeeze through. So, in we went. It took us about 10 minutes of walking around on top of the carved slab to discover that it was the one we had seen pictures of in our guide book. It was the one where it looked like a Mayan was sitting in a rocket ship. At that point, we looked at each other and decided we’d better get the heck out of there before we were caught.
Oh, the days of being young and doing stupid things.
Hey Steve – Those are the days for sure! It’s a lot more organized now at Palenque of course so we were limited as to where we could go, but I was just happy that we could still climb to the top of several pyramids and temples in order to get those incredible views!
Looked like a great tour! Your blog has been a great resource for my upcoming trip to Mexico. Thankyou!
Hey Jimmy – Let me know how your Mexico trip goes…where are you heading exactly?
Looks like a great tour! I’ll be heading to central america in a couple weeks and you have officially inspired me to put Mexico at the top of my list!
Hey Dawn – Definitely include Mexico on your trip…such a diverse, friendly country. It won’t disappoint!
Amazing post, I have been Tulum and it is the most beautiful beach in the world, great photos.
Wasn’t it dangerous travelling through those towns? Where did you stay along the way?
@Vice Tee – Dangerous? Just keep an eye out for my post next week on the dangers (or lack of) involved with traveling to this great country!
This looks like such a fun tour! So glad it went so well for you. 🙂
Thanks for that Kate!
Great recap. Now I want to return to Mexico. I have lived in Playa del Carmen before & spent this past New Year’s in Oaxaca. I might have to join you on your next tour. Cheers!
Hey Rafaelinho – You are more than welcome!
Hey Earl, it was great to bump into you randomly on the street in PDC. Looks like you had a wonderful trip, I have been to all those places except Oaxaca and they are all great, in fact we visited Izamal last week on your advice! Very much looking forward to going to Oaxaca when my Mum visits later in the year. Saludos!
Hey Sarah – That was a nice surprise to meet you in PDC! Definitely let me know how it goes when you do make it to Oaxaca…such a beautiful city. If you have any questions about it when you plan your trip, just send them my way!
Thank you for being an amazing guide and friend to all. I think you should be proud of bringing such an awesome, diverse group of people together, handling any situation, and creating a beautiful, eye-opening two weeks of our lives.
I know I don’t regret a second of it.
Hey Cindy – I really appreciate that and I was certainly lucky to have such an ideal group of people on this tour! I look forward to following your upcoming adventures 🙂
Adding it to my Bucket List to go on a trip with you! 🙂
Hey Andi – I look forward to it!