I have lived in Cancun for 15 years, but I haven’t explored the Yucatan Peninsula very much. I’ve been to Tulum, and to all of the towns on the way down, but besides two hurried trips to Merida and one day trip to Valladolid, I hadn’t traveled to the west or the north.
Recently that all changed. I couple of weeks ago Bebé, some friends and I spent a weekend in Rio Lagartos, a small town that is home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which is located on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Yucatan (Cancun is in the state of Quintana Roo). Now we all know I love my all-inclusives, but this was a delightful, unforgettable adventure.
We started the weekend by taking the scenic route to Rio Lagartos. You can see where it is relative to Cancun on the map below. Most people take the pay highway to Valladolid, and then the “highway” (so very narrow, no shoulder) north to Rio Lagartos.
Now imagine a twisty, turny route running northwest from Cancun to Tizimin through Mayan villages. That was our route.
It took forever, but I loved it! We passed through countless little villages of varying sizes, where many people still have pole and thatch houses (basically sticks with a palapa on top). Every single town had a government-constructed basketball court (Who knows?). We saw cows and horses tied up in front of houses, and stray dogs lying in the street completely unworried about traffic. And we crossed over “topes” (speed bumps), lots and lots of topes.
The kids asked if we were almost there some 100 times.
When we arrived in Rio Lagartos we hurried to dinner, as they were keeping the restaurant, La Torreja, open for us. We were a little perplexed since it was only about 8pm, but we quickly learned that things open late, close early and move slowly in this small fishing town. The menu was representative of most waterfront restaurants in Mexican costal towns, shrimp, fish, octopus, chicken and beef prepared in various delicious ways.
Finally it was time to check out our hotel, Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel. Yuum Ha is a comfortable, modern oasis in a town full of hotels and inns that can only be described as rustic. Yuum Ha offers free WiFi, comfortable beds, air-conditioning, lovely showers with rain shower heads and bathtubs, closets with lots of space and smart TVs with cable.
This was the view from our room…
This is the view from their patio…
The next morning we were up bright and early for our Flamingo Tour. Diego Nuñuz, owner of Rio Lagartos Adventures (and various other things around town) was under the weather, but he left us in good hands with Francisco aka Paco. We boarded the small boat and he whisked us off to a group of flamingos that were very close.
Paco offered lots of info about the flamingos and after oohing and ahhing about the sounds they made and how beautiful they are, we headed deep into the “ria” (estuary). Occasionally a flock of flamingos would fly by, and they were much faster than the boat was at full speed.
We go to the beach quite often, but we don’t spend much time in really natural places. The ria is absolutely breathtaking. No buildings, no docks, no airplanes, no people, just glorious nature, and a few other small boats. Every once in awhile Paco would quickly turn to the right or left to show us a black eagle, or a herron, or a crocodile.
Yes, a crocodile. Paco called it as if it was his dog, by gently slapping his “chancla” or flip flop on the water’s surface. Then he pet it on the head. At times it was only about a foot or so away from us. The kids were thrilled. It was truly an unforgettable moment.
Next stop was “Las Coloradas” aka the pink lakes. The reason the lakes are pink is because of the high content of salt and minerals. In fact, there is a huge salt factory next to Las Coloradas. Kelly aka Cancun Canuck and I went swimming in the pink lakes and found we were extra “floaty” in the salty water.
After “rinsing off” in the only slightly less salty ria, we make our way to the “Baño Maya” for a Mayan mud bath. Paco dug deep and scooped out some mud, which was odorless and felt very similar to an expensive mask you would buy in the cosmetics department. Felt good to get dirty from head to toe!
Now it was time for a swim at a completely natural, sublime beach. We kind of wanted to stay there all day, but alas we had no water and we were starving and you had to stay in the water the whole time because the “tábanos” (which loosely translates to “stupid horseflies that I am extremely allergic to”) were on a rampage.
After a quick shower to rinse off all of “the nature”, we had breakfast at La Torreja and I quite literally scarfed down these yummy “huevos divorciados”.
We agreed that after a short rest we would explore the town on the golf cart. Dinner was at 6pm, so we headed out at 3pm.
We drove along the “malecon” (boardwalk) to Chiquila lagoon where locals go to cool off. Max wanted a “chicharron” (with everything por favor).
Then we drove into town, and well, drove around in circles (it’s not very big) while the few locals that were outside during “siesta” time stared at us. Bebé, who didn’t rest during rest time, fell asleep on the golf cart. (It is getting a lot more difficult to carry him up stairs when he falls asleep in random places.) We giggled about how our big exploration of the town lasted exactly one hour.
That night we headed to Restaurante Ria Maya for dinner. This cozy restaurant with a huge palapa roof is on the second floor and has a spectacular view of the sparkling ria and its sunsets. I had the “Camarones a la Diabla” (shrimp in a spicy red sauce). One word: Goooood. Wish I had some more of it right now.
After dinner we had beers on the dock across from Yuum Ha and watched the sunset.
And the kids found what is quite possibly the best swing in the world.
In the morning we were on the road right after breakfast. We had decided to take the faster way home and make a stop in “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town) Valladolid. I was a little worried that the drive home would be boring without all the pueblos but we did go through a couple and Tizimin was an interesting little city to drive through.
I hadn’t been to Valladolid in 15 years. It is now much larger and busier, but the downtown area and “zocalo” (town square) haven’t lost their charm. It was Sunday so there were vendors set up right in the zocalo. The kids were happy to be out of the car for a while.
We bought a few things and had some delicious ice cream. I had “Queso de Bola” (Edam “ball” cheese) flavor. They had other unique flavors like “Elote” (corn).
I have been looking for the perfect turquoise necklace and I found it! (I love hearts.)
It was time to get back to Cancun to do the grocery shopping and laundry, so we hopped on the (boring but fast) toll road and sped back to the big city. However, I think I’ve got the bug now, and you may see posts of more road trips to Rio Lagartos or other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.