Dec 3, 2005, 12:10 PM
Post #18 of 38
As far as places to see and stay, I'll put some ideas I would have for the southern part of the trip. There is so much in central Mexico that would be interesting I'd have to write a book and others have done it. I'll say that I'd spend at least a few days in Puebla, a week would not be too long.
From Puebla, the road drops precipitously about 5000' in 30 miles down to Orizaba. It's a good, divided road but if you are afraid of heights don't look over the side. This is where the weather changes dramatically and you are suddenly in warm, humid air with tropical scents and bananas, coconuts and mangos growing around you. Hope that the weather is clear and you can get a good look at the volcano Orizaba, it is the tallest in México and 2nd or 3rd for the continent. It is particularly spectacular because it rises from a low tropical area without other mountains around it. I believe it is over 18k´ in height. You can see it from the road between Cordoba and Orizaba unless it is raining or foggy. If you are in a hurry and started very early from Puebla, you can get on the toll road about 25 km before Veracruz and head towards Minatitlan and Villahermosa. If you started late or want to see Veracruz (recommended) then go on into the city and find a hotel downtown. I am obviously not up on hotels since we travel by RV but I'm sure others can recommend one.
From Veracruz to Villahermosa is either a days slog on a boring but much faster toll road or a long perambulation through coastal estado de Veracruz and Tabasco. If you go for the scenic but much slower route, spend the night around Lake Catemaco. It's the home of famous brujas and has tourist accomodations. If you take the toll road, start early and go all the way to Villahermosa. The cities in between are off the road for one thing and pretty boring oil towns for another.
Villahermosa is only worth about a day to me, maybe Bubba found something else to do there but we haven't. It's a wealthy town and has lots of good hotels, WalMart, etc. The one thing worth seeing is the parque at the museum which has some of the original Olmec heads from the area.
From Villahermosa it is an easy drive to Palenque which is a must see in my book. It's one of the top Mayan sites in 3 countries and worth at least a whole day at the site. There are nice hotels in the town but I didn't see any at the site, that could have changed. There is a nice motel along the road to the site that has an RV park in back. The museum just outside the park is also worth a visit.
From Palenque you have another decision, either go across the bottom of the peninsula to Chetumal or go north near Escarcega to Campeche and Mérida.
If you go across, start early and you can make it to Chetumal in one long day. There is beautiful country in between and a few small towns and mayan ruins but not a lot of places to stay. I'd avoid staying in Escarcega, I think it is a dump even though they are busy sprucing it up for tourists. This area makes famous cheeses, stop in the town of 18 of Marzo and buy some cheese or ice cream. Once you hit the border of Quintana Roo, the road improves incredibly and is good the rest of the way to Chetumal. There you can stay downtown or go out along the bay to the small suburb of Calderitas and stay on the water, beautiful. I can get you the name of a spot there that also lets RV's park and is gorgeous. The Mayan museum in Chetumal is fantastic, don't miss it. Or you can go a little ways north on the road to Cancun and stay along Lago Bacalar, there are several inns and B&B's there and it is also beautiful. Don't miss having lunch at the huge cenote near there where you can dive in from your table and swim while waiting for your food. From chetumal or Bacalar it is about 5 hours to Playa del Carmen and the ferry to Cozumel. In between is the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto which has a large place in the history of the area and the Caste War but is rather unremarkable otherwise. From Tulum to Playa is called the Maya Riviera and there are lots of resorts and some small resort towns. We live along there in Akumal, it's a good spot for dinner and it is usually easy to get a room in any of the casitas or condos. Puerto Aventuras is also along here and also has good restaurants strung along a lagoon and places to stay. Playa del Carmen has many places to stay and is an interesting place to spend a day or so, particularly people watching. It's got more of a Euro clientele than many of the other resorts and you will find the guys hawking restaurants can do so in Dutch, French, German, Italian and English. The people ferry to Cozumel leaves many times a day and takes less than an hour. If you want to take your car across, you will have to continue north to Puerto Morelos and use the car ferry. I don't yet know if it is in service but I can check for you. If you'd like, you can store your car in Playa at "secured" parking. I can't vouch for the security as I haven't used it for many years. Shoot, just send me an email and you can store your car here in Akumal if you want. Cozumel hasn't got a lot of roads (especially after Wilma) and a car isn't necessary there. You could probably also spend one night at a hotel with good secure parking in Playa and book another night on your way back and they would store the car for you.
If you go the other way around the peninsula, you will go to Campeche which is worth a night along the harbor. You will also go by the Puuc Hills area of Mayan ruins which are also very high on my personal list of best ruinas. Uxmal is much more interesting in most ways than Chichen Itza, if you have to choose, choose Uxmal. Near the ruins of Uxmal are many, many other mayan cities. The whole area is fascinating and beautiful to drive through. The towns of Mani, Oxcushkob (can't remember the spelling but that is how it sounds), Tikul, and others are worth exploring. There are good hotels around Uxmal, some right at the ruins. This is the area to enjoy mayan food, poc chuc, sopa de limon, panuchos. The Grutas de Loltun are worth the fee for the guided tour and are rarely very busy.
Next you will arrive in Mérida, my favorite city in all of México. My favorite hotel there is the Gran Hotel, although I haven´t stayed there for a few years as we have a place to park our RV now. It has secure parking around the block and since Mérida is difficult to drive in I recommend getting to the hotel and having the bellman go with you to show you where to park. Then leave the car there until you are leaving the city. Get a guide book to read up on the city, it is too much to write here but there is a lot to see and do in the city and in the area - enough for at least a week but no less than several days. You will leave Mérida for Cancun, the toll road is the easiest but is expensive and I don´t know how far along they are in repairs. It might be best to return this way giving longer for all the repairs to be completed and to find out recent news of it while in Playa. The road to Cancun from Playa is fine, we drove it a few days ago. I just don´t know yet about the one from Cancun through Valladolid to Mérida. I can ask if you decide to come that way.
Jeez, I´ve written a book! Sorry if this is too long, but I left out a lot. We have spent a lot of time driving around and exploring México, I can go on and on about some areas.
Jonna - Mérida, Yucatán