My Travel Guide, Part 1: Mayan Riviera, Havana and Caye Caulker
As you are going traveling in Central America this summer I decided to put together a personalised travel guide for you based on my own experiences. You are in for a margarita and lobster fueled trip in beach paradise.
Back in June 2010, my trip started off in Cancun. I think of Cancun as a bit like Vegas but with beautiful white sand beaches. Its perhaps not the most authentically Mexican place – it has a commercial, Americanized vibe – but that’s part of its charm. I advise you sample the surf ‘n’ turf at Captain’s Cove; sit out on the deck and watch the sunset over the lagoon, whilst crocodiles paddle around just meters away. Whilst you’re in Cancun there’s one thing you really must do, and that’s party baby. Dady’O is, of course, THE place to party – knock back a jaggerbomb and have a boogie to David Guetta. To nurse your hangover the next day I recommend a hearty breakfast buffet in one of the hotels on the main strip, including frijoles beans and tortillas. Then have a sunbathe and a dip in the sea, followed by a ride on a WaveRunner around the lagoon, and you’ll be good to go.
Playa del Carmen is not far from Cancun and is worth a visit for late night tequila tasting. Of course, if its culture you’re after you should get a coach to Chichen Itza, and learn about the fascinating Mayan civilization.
Isla Mujeres is a tiny, colourful island just next to Cancun. I recommend staying at Poc na hostel which is by North beach; pretty much perfection. You’ll wake up to this:
You can spend a day going swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. Or rent a golf buggy to explore the island and you might come across a turtle reserve and a modernist sculpture garden with epic views:
A bit more island-exploring and you might come across:
A man built a floating home on top of plastic bottles. Visitors are encouraged to get to the mini floating island by pulling themselves across the water on a boat, whilst escorted by a small dog.
Our next stop was Havana, Cuba. Read Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas’ startlingly honest memoirs about his struggle for sexual, political and artistic freedom under Castro’s regime. Havana’s ornate colonial architecture is exquisite but crumbling due to lack of maintenance. For me the city had an unnerving atmosphere that’s difficult to forget. I recommend the Casa de Africa to see artefacts that Castro picked up on a trip to Africa. Also have a daiquiri at La Floridita and a cigar at La Bodeguita del medio. We heard some great live salsa music at Hotel Habana Libre, Club El Turquino and watched a fun cabaret show at Hotel Nacional.
You also must get a tour of the city in one of these:
Next it was on to Caye Caulker, Belize. Caye Caulker is a tiny, laid back island where the moto is “go slow”. The pace is so slow in fact that you will forget what day it is. Another phrase on the island is “no shirt, no shoes, no problem”. We stayed in Tina’s Hostel, which is very colourful and right on the beach. We spent our days horizontal on the sand, snorkeling, chilling at the Split bar and eating lobster. Don Carleoni is a much recommended choice of restaurant.
Last but not least, Tulum. In town we stayed in the Weary Traveler Hostel, which has a good communal area where you can barbeque your own food. Charlie’s restaurant on the main road serves excellent Mexican food, try the huevos rancheros. Unfortunately the town is spoiled by a busy highway running through it and it’s quite far from the beach. We also stayed at the Posada Los Mapaches Hostel, nearer the beach, which consists of treehouse-like buildings in the jungle. The service was really good and your stay includes a bike and delicious breakfast. One of my favourite days of the trip was spent cycling to explore nearby cenotes. Cenotes are underground caves filled with fresh water that you can jump in, climb around and snorkel in, which is very refreshing in the heat of Mexican summer. They were also important sites of ritual for the Mayans. The Las Calabares cenote was beautiful and unspoilt. We were the only visitors there and we swam in the cave as it rained and a couple of bats flew around. The Gran Cenote was bigger and had turtles and lily pads.
Also visit the the Tulum Ancient Mayan City ruins, which are the only Mayan ruins next to the sea. Tulum is famous for its beaches and they don’t disappoint. I had some great ceviche in a little shack just off the beach. You can also stay in little huts next to the sea. On our last night we stayed in a campsite on the beach and conveniently enough for us there happened to be a hurricane that night. I was terrified and didn’t sleep a wink as the rain bucketed down on our tent and I was convinced that we were going to be blown, tent and all, into the sea.
On that note, I hope this makes you excited for your trip.