Touring the Yucatan by motorcycle

articles Travel & Destinations

David Hammer

“Ai-ee!” I yelled as the motorcycle flew into the air. We were riding double at 55 mph between Tulum and Playa del Carmen and I didn’t see the sign for the elevated crosswalk ahead. My years of dirt bike riding paid off. I shifted my weight to the foot pegs, kept off the brakes, and we flew across the six-foot-wide crosswalk, landed upright and kept rolling. Aggie dug her fingers into my ribs, hung on, and laughed.

Our adventure started three days before in Cancún where I planned to buy a motorcycle. I located a dealer who sold used bikes, but before we left the hotel, a thunderstorm dumped torrential rains and flooded the streets from curb to curb. My first thought was “This does not look like good weather for motorcycle riding.” The taxi plowed through the water and Aggie took pictures through the windshield, with the wipers working furiously. The rain stopped by the time we got to the dealer and I test rode two bikes. I settled on a 1982 Honda 450 Hawk, because it was it was cheap, looked like new and had less than 7,000 miles on it. Now all we needed was a rack to hold Aggie’s huge yellow backpack. We left our packs at the dealer and followed the directions to a motorcycle repair shop for a rack. About two miles down the road, the bike stalled and would not restart. Hmm – dead battery. We took a bus back to the dealer, who towed the bike back, fixed the alternator, and recharged the battery. The dealer gave me a ride on his scooter to the repair shop for the rack and by 4:30 p.m. we were on our way out of Cancún in heavy traffic. A dog ran into the road just ahead of us, was hit by a Volkswagen Beatle, rolled three times, and ran down the center divider. The dog’s rear was stained purple, like it had been hit by a paint ball gun. We could not stop to investigate further, but the moment was quintessential of our trip.

The toll road west of Cancún is smooth, straight and had almost no traffic. We cruised at about 60 mph through the jungle, making only one pit stop, and arrived in Valladolid just before dark. Valladolid is a charming old colonial city on the way to Chichén Itzá. We stayed at El Mesón del Marqués, an ancient colonial house of the 16th century that has been converted into a beautiful hotel. We had dinner in the courtyard that surrounds the fountain. El Mesón offers great food, wine and ambience.

The next morning we stopped at a gas station on the way out of town. I inspected the bike and saw cracks in the sidewall of the front tire. It looked like the tire had gone flat and been parked for a long time. Not wanting to risk a blowout, we turned around and went to a Honda dealer for a new tire. We toured Cenote Zaci, a park with a cave and underground river, while the tire was being changed.

About five miles out of Valladolid, we ran into another thunderstorm. My jacket and pants were soaked in minutes so we stopped for an early lunch at a roadside thatched roof cocina and enjoyed real Mexican food. We should have asked the price in advance because we were charged $17 for lunch, which included the $10 gringo surcharge. The storm passed and we were back on the road. Riding the bike at 55 mph is like riding in a clothes dryer and my jacket and pants were soon dry.

Chichén Itzá is probably the most well known Maya ruins in the Yucatán. The pyramid in the center of the park is very impressive, but now no one is allowed to climb it, as was permitted in past years. The park was crowded with busloads of tourists from Cancún and Mexicans from all over the country. Vendors are now allowed to set up tables inside the park and there are hundreds of them. This distracts some from the historical atmosphere of the park, but it is still worth seeing. After touring the park, we returned to Valladolid, picked up our packs at the hotel, and headed south for Cobá.

Most of the road to Cobá is very good and much better than when I drove it about five years ago. The town of Cobá is small, with a couple of one-star Mexican hotels and one nice resort, Villa Arqueológicas Cobá, right next to a small lake with crocodiles slumbering on the shore. We chose the resort, which used to be run by Club Med. It has a large pool, tennis courts, and a good restaurant. The next morning we explored the Cobá ruins. It is 42 square miles of jungle and includes the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán. We rented bicycles for 20 pesos and had a blast riding along the scabes (pre-Hispanic raised causeways). We climbed the pyramid, El Castillo, while humming the theme song to Indiana Jones. The weather was hot and after two hours in the park we were ready for a swim in the pool at the resort.

By the 1 p.m. check out time, we were back on the road, heading for Tulum. The smell of the sea signaled our approach to Tulum. It was hot when we stopped for lunch in the town of Tulum, with almost no breeze. We sweated while enjoying chicken tacos, served with spaghetti. Tulum is a Maya fortress overlooking the Caribbean. Once it was protected by thick walls but the city was abandoned about 70 years after the Spanish Conquest.

After exploring Tulum, we rode north to Calica to take the car ferry to Cozumel and home to Casa Martillo Condos. Jumping over the elevated crosswalk was not the last adventure on the motorcycle. We toured Cozumel for four days, SCUBA dived, snorkeled and enjoyed the beaches, only running out of gas once.

Published or Updated on: November 1, 2008 by David Hammer © 2009
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