Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 - Cancun and Merida

Cancun Trip - 2014

This year's trip, besides staying at the Omni for a week, we decided to venture out to Merida as well. In Cancun, we had a room on one of the top floors, with a good view of the white sandy beach below. It was great just sitting on the balcony listening to the surf and watching the clouds go by. But we did manage to take a couple of fun, day-long excursions.

Rio Secreto was first. The secret river trip was thoroughly enjoyable and exciting. We planned it on our own, not with a tour operator. It required an early start from the hotel by public bus to the ADO bus station, downtown Cancun. From there we took another bus that dropped us off at the front entrance to the park. It did take a while to get there because the bus often stopped to drop off or pick up new passengers. In all, it took about two hours.

Since we could not bring cameras, none of these photos are mine.

After checking in, we and several other tourists were driven inland to cabanas where we were furnished wet suits and booties. There was clean and comfortable dressing room. Once suited, we were given helmets with headlamps and, for those who wanted them, walking sticks. With our female Russian tour guide, we proceeded to walk through a jungle path for a couple of hundred yards and came upon a Mayan man, who performed a short ritual to the gods of the underworld, dousing each of us with a smoky, sweet smelling incense. We were now ready to proceed into the cave.

Shortly after entering the cave we encountered the ankle-deep water of the underground river. As we got deeper into the cave, the river also became deeper. The cave was pitch black with only our headlamps and our tour guide's flashlight. 

We were soon surrounded by beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Stalactites, the ones that hang from the cave's ceiling, look like icicles. Our guide explained that stalactites grow from water and calcium seeping through the limestone. Once inside the cave, the drips of water and calcium form a stalactite. It grows very slowly - about an inch every 250 years. Then, with water drops from the stalactites falling on the ground, the deposits create a stalagmite. Over time, some will form a cone-like shape high enough to meet the stalactite to form a what's known as a column. We saw several examples of the columns.

The tour only encompassed a small part of the twenty mile long cave. At times we had to swim through deep areas while at other times we walked on hard ground, always being cautious not to touch our delicate surroundings. 

We spent about two hours walking, wading and swimming through the cave. It was a fascinating adventure. Afterwards, they fed us a tasty Mexican lunch comprised of chicken, rice, beans, a cactus vegetable and fruit. 

The other tour we took while we were in Cancun was to Isla Contoy, a small island about an hour and a half north of Cancun. Isla Contoy is a marine reserve that has lots of bird life, as well as marine life.

Bird's eye view of Isla Contoy.

The boat trip was pretty rough due to strong winds and choppy seas. For those daring the upper deck seats, we got a good soaking. But it was warm - no problema! On our approach to the lee of the island, we were greeted by pristine white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
A beautiful white sandy beach in Isla Contoy.
After docking we went for a walking tour of the narrow island. We visited one of the areas that frigate birds use for mating and nesting and saw some of the male birds with their engorged orange throat sacks that they use to attract the females. Another  interesting fact about frigate birds - they can stay aloft for a week with no food and water (and they are able to sleep while flying).

A friendly local iguana keeping an eye on me.
In the afternoon we lunched on barbecued fish, chicken, rice, beans, and salad. After the lunch settled a bit, we went snorkeling. Although we saw a variety of sea life, the highlight to me was seeing a 3-4 foot grouper that must have weighed hundreds of pounds.

On the docks of Isla Contoy.

Our return to Cancun was faster and smoother than on the way over. It had been another fun-filled adventure. 

After spending a week in the Cancun area we headed for Merida. To get there we took the ADO bus. It was about a four hour trip. The bus was a luxury class and offered movies with head phones, drinks and bathrooms. 

Our hotel, del Perigrino, was a twenty minute walk from the bus station, near the center of Merida. It was a friendly, comfortable and well located place, with a wholesome buffet breakfast.

Merida Cathedral

Palacio del Gobernador

Besides being the capital of the Yucatan, Merida is central to the Mayan culture. Since we were there for only four days, we opted to spend our days in town, rather than go on day-long side trips. We visited museums, cathedrals, parks, mercados, the nearby beach town of Progresso and attended an evening Mayan cultural dance.

Along the beach front in Progresso.

A delicious "Pescado Frito" dinner in Progresso.

Typical Mayan seat arrangement.

The Grand Square in Merida.

Colorfully painted buildings line streets of Merida.

An outside hallway in Casa de los Montejo museum.

The dining room in Casa de los Montejo museum.
At the hotel, we encountered lots of friendly and interesting fellow travelers from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and Germany. After our four day stay, we took the bus back to Cancun. We stayed at a downtown hotel, El Rey del Caribe, where we had stayed before. The following day we flew home.

Diane chilling with her iPad in a hammock at El Rey del Caribe.