Starting the New Year with a Trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Yucatan

One of my favorite destinations, Yucatan is a place I can visit multiple times a year.  Which we did this time, returning after only a few months.  We were there in the spring of 2017, and we set off for the same destination once again, on New Year’s Eve.

View from the Top of Nohuch Mul, Cobá
View from one of the tallest pyramids of the peninsula, in Cobá. I have never seen the surrounding forest this green before. It’s winter, the wet season.

Air Travel on the Day of New Year’s Eve

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we set off to the airport on the morning of New Year’s Eve.  It was my birthday, and it was the second year that I spent half my birthday traveling.

Last year we were driving back from a short trip, but this time we were flying away for a week.  I’ve never been on a plane on a Holiday.  We try to avoid it, when we can.  However, this time it just worked out with our “free” tickets.  We travel on points many times, since we do have frequent flier miles and credit cards that add flying points from purchases.

The airport was almost deserted.  Getting through security was a breeze, and the flight itself was one of the most pleasant I have experienced in a long time.  The plane was half empty.

Since they had no stress that comes with crowded planes, too many different people to please, the stewardesses were at their most pleasant.  We could sit wherever we wanted, taken a whole row if we felt like it. When we commented on how we’ve never been on a plane so empty, and didn’t expect to be on one on a Holiday, the stewardess commented,

“Yes, because everyone thinks they don’t want to travel on New Year’s Eve.  You should not think like everyone.”

We landed on time, got our rental car, and by dinnertime, we were in Puerto Morelos, where I did make a reservation in a hotel, knowing that it might get booked.  We rarely make reservations, but this time I was glad I did.  It was the only way we got a room.  Though we could’ve slept on the beach, the weather was perfect, and there are no bugs by the ocean.

New Year’s Eve in Puerto Morelos

Once we got our room, we set off for dinner.  Our favorite restaurant, on the beach, was more crowded than I ever saw it, and they was closing for the night.

We stopped at one of the other ones we knew from the old days.  It was half-empty.

“Do you have reservations?”, asked the greeter.  We didn’t, so we couldn’t stay.

The same thing happened in two other restaurants.

We finally decided that we would eat some street food or a cliff bar for New Year’s Eve dinner.  But we walked around some more, off the main square.  We didn’t hope for much, all the restaurants that lined the streets were full.

Still, we stopped and asked if they had a table available at another one of the smaller restaurants we ate at in the past. Yes, they did, if we gave them a minute to set it up.  They moved a few chairs, and tables around, then invited us to sit.

Someone at a neighboring table tried to order two different things they didn’t have. We looked at each other and smiled. “Here we go again.” When our waiter got there, we asked,

“What do you have on the menu?”

“Almost everything”, he answered.  “Except coconut shrimp and any chicken.”

We still had a few choices. They did have fish, and that’s what I cared about. We were in a fishing village on the sea, after all.

The New Year’s celebration at midnight was subdued.  We watched kids lined up in front of a piñata in the shape of a person with 2017 written on it. They took turns hitting it, until it opened.  We weren’t close enough to see, but I think they had to break free the New Year, 2018.

A Week of Exploring Old and New Places on the Peninsula

 
We stopped at Xel-Ha Ruins, though I feel like I know every structure,  every stone and tree there.  It was the Mayan site I have ever seen, and as such, it will always have a special place in my hearth. We spent a few hours there, before moving on to our next destination. 
We always stop at Muyil (Chunyaxche), no matter how busy it gets (and it is still not too bad, once we pass Tulum).  The combination of great structures and a jungle walk makes it a treat. 
The Main Pyramid at Muyil Ruins
The Main Pyramid at Muyil Ruins
 
It was dinnertime when we arrived to Siiyil Noh-Ha. After settling in our hut, we climbed the Mirador – Lookout Tower – and enjoyed the view of the jungle canopy around us.
 
“We only have shrimp ceviche tonight”, our host told us, when we sat down for dinner. I never had it before, and wasn’t sure what to expect, but didn’t have a choice.  We ordered one to share and I found my new favorite Yucatecan food. 
 
After two days in the middle of nowhere, with very limited phone and no internet service, we drove to Coba.  Two days exploring the ruins and the the town was perfect, while we tried to figure out what we would want to do next.
 
We found a great deal in a hotel we knew, so we returned to Chichen Itza. I know, I did say that I was done with the place, but it ended up being much more pleasant than I expected.  That is because we only used it for a base, to explore the back roads, the small towns, little-known ruins, places that we haven’t seen yet.  Yes, we still found some of those, close to the well-known and busy Wonder of the World.
Chichen Itza. Temple in the Old Town
Chichen Itza. Temple in the Old Town
 

Another Great Trip to Yucatan

 
By the time we were ready to get home, we felt that we did a lot, once again. We didn’t swim much, except one day, since it was actually cold in Yucatan.  Relatively cold, meaning very pleasant for hiking and climbing pyramids.  
 
We explored sites we didn’t know existed.  Small sites, but still impressive, where we were the only visitors. 
 
We met volunteers who were cleaning another site. We talked to a Mayan who told us stories about the Caste War, the site and working with a renowned archaeologist I admire. I bought a beautiful huipil-like shirt made by his wife I met. 
 
We climbed cleared pyramids, and one that only has a trail leading up to the top, and is still covered by vegetation. 
 
We walked through the jungle and explored a colonial town we have never been in, where no one spoke English.  
 
As always, we left with plans to return soon.  

Author: EmeseRéka

I am a writer, translator, traveler, stay-at-home mother. I grew up in beautiful Transylvania, where I studied linguistics, among other things. After college I hopped on a plane across the Atlantic and landed in New York, where I met a fellow explorer. We still travel the world together, dragging our three children along most of the time. I love to explore out-of-the-way and little-known places, while connecting with locals. I write stories and articles for over a dozen publications.

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