Trip Coach: October 7, 2008
Greg Benchwick, author of "Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel & The Yucatán," answered your questions on trips to these Mexican destinations.
Greg Benchwick: Hi Travelers,
Greg Benchwick here, coming to you live from my friend's hilltop apartment high above the colonial Mexican city of Oaxaca. I've been reading through your great questions about the Yucatan and am thrilled to get this chat started.
Let's get chatting!
Alexandria, Va.: I'll be travelling to Cancun on Oct 22nd for six nights. I'm going solo and not renting a car. I know I'll grow tired of the Hotel Zone and I'm looking to explore the real Yucatan. I've been to Playa Del Carmen and thought the place to be paradise. I'd like to see Colonial Mexico and enjoy a dining expierence of Yucatan flavors. I thought of taking the bus from the downtown Cancun bus terminal to Merida. What's your suggestion on soaking up culture outside of a trip to the ruins in Tulum?
Greg Benchwick: Heya Going Solo,
Sounds like an amazing trip. And you are definitely in luck. The Yucatan offers one of Mexico's richest, most vibrant cultures. From Cancun, you can visit many places in the Maya Hinterland. There's towns like Nuevo Durango and Yodznot that are just now starting to develop tourism. Then there's the colonial masterpiece of Merida. The one thing to keep in mind on such a short trip is that it takes a good four hours from Cancun to Merida on a first-class bus. So you may be better off looking for an authentic cultural experience closer to home. Halfway between Cancun and Merida are the towns of Valladolid and Izamal. Both have Maya ruins nearby, as well as some cenotes, limestone sinkholes, for swimming.
Another feasible day-trip would be to head down the coast to Tulum, then head inland to the massive Maya site of Coba. You'll feel like quite the Indiana Jones in Coba. There's jungle everywhere and many pyramids have yet to be totally excavated. Whatever adventure you choose, I think it's incredible that you are looking to get off the beaten path.
Paramus, N.J.: We are returning to Riviera Maya in Feb. 2009. We love to snorkel but are disillusioned with "group" tours because the large group seems to scare the wildlife away. Any suggestions on how to find a reputable snorkel operator or boat owner who will take us on a private snorkel tour (or a very small group)? Thanks for your help with this. Mary
Greg Benchwick: Hi Mary,
Yes, it's getting harder and harder these days to find good snorkeling spots along the Mayan Riviera. Big-time hurricanes over the past several years have done some severe damage to the reefs near Cancun, Mahahual and Cozumel, not to mention, there's more divers visiting these reefs than ever before.
This said, there's still plenty of fun spots for snorkeling, and you don't even necessarily need to contract a boat to get there. One of my favorite spots is the Yal Ku lagoon in Akumal. The lagoon is packed with parrot fish and interesting rock formations, has extremely tranquil waters, and nowadays, it even sports a tastefully designed above-water sculpture garden.
As for contracting a boat. If you really want to get away from the crowds, than you'll be better off chartering a private boat. Tell the captain your wants and needs, and who knows, you may just have the place all to yourself.
Dubuque, Iowa: I would like to combine a short cruise with a visit to some of the temple ruins as a birthday present for my 13 year old daughter. She is currently studying the Mayan and Inca civilizations. How should we do that? We have never cruised or been in the area. Would it be better to be land based?
Greg Benchwick: Hello Super Parent,
Wow, a trip to the Yucatan, what an amazing birthday gift. That's one lucky girl. The good news is that there's tons of amazing things to see and do for a 13 year old in the Yucatan. Heck, even a 63 year old will be delighted by the cultural and natural treasures at hand. I must say, however, that I'm not a big cruise fan. While cruises are absolutely the perfect vacation for some, it will certainly take away from the adventure aspects of an on-the-ground "expedition" through this territory. Cruising also creates a serious environmental impact. Up to three times the CO2 emissions as a flight of the same distance!
From what you are saying, it sounds like an on-the-ground trip may be your best bet. I'd suggest starting your trip in Cancun. It's cheaper to fly here than to most places in the Yucatan. I would go straight down to Playa del Carmen from Cancun. That will put you within great striking distance of some of the area's Maya sites, as well as some amazing beaches, cenotes (limestone sinkholes) and great snorkeling.
From Playa, I would definitely try to take a day trip to Chichen Itza. This massive Maya site was recently named as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. You'll also have easy day trips (or overnight adventures) to Tulum, Coba, and Cozumel (for snorkeling).
There's also a handful of natural "amusement parks" in the area like Xel-Ha and Xcaret, where you can snorkel in amazing waters, swim with dolphins and just let a kid be a kid.
Have a great trip. And happy birthday to your little girl!