Mexico II – The Mainland

Out of the boat, on to the road. Mazatlan is a mess, a hot and humid mess. To make it worse, it seems Mexico lets you choose between nice, double lane toll roads or truck choked, single lane free ones. Aaaarrgh!!

The plan is to cross the country diagonally, passing the central megacities and leaving the pacific coast for what it is. First stop: Guadalajara. Not bad, Mexico! Artsy bars and a nice, colonial city center. And God, the small towns are cheap here. A nice hotel room set along green pine trees: less than eight euro. Delicious tacos: one euro. Tour of the Villa Hermosa town hall: free, rooftop view and (very) talkative rifle-armed MP-ers included.

No such deals in Ciudad de Mexico, although the city itself is amazing. There is everything your heart can possibly desire. Fantastic architecture? A  great street music scene? Awesome bars? Messy markets? Probably the neatest museums in the Americas? All there, and much more. There was even an international food fair…Belgian waffles, yummy!

They do love their traditions - Mexico D.F. (look at that lens bokeh!)
They do love their traditions – Mexico D.F. (look at that ssmooottthh lens bokeh!)

Before leaving the capital region, there are two to-do-list-items waiting to be crossed off. The first is Popocatépetl, a 5426m high, very active stratovolcano. A (really early) morning hike, after a rather nauseous night at 4200m asl, revealed the ice-capped, steaming monster. The surrounding landscape wasn’t that bad, either.

Eerly morning hike - volcán Popocatépetl
Eerly morning hike – volcán Popocatépetl

If anyone is still looking for us: WE ARE OK! Sorry for not returning those national park passes…

Number two is Teotihuacan, once the largest city on the American continent. Nowadays you will find two impressive pyramids, linked by a corridor that is riddled with jaguar-impersonating vendors. And skull-vendors. And everything-else-vendors.

Did I mention it is hot here? And to top it all off, the backlight of our laptop screen just decided to call it quits. Great! On to Veracruz it is, then. Home of the “Los Zetas”, probably Mexico’s most violent drug cartel. And that is not even the worst thing along the country’s northern coast. 39°C and 100 percent humidity. No wonder everyone wants to kill each other there. The good thing is that it was relatively easy to find a cheap computer monitor. Back in business!

It is not all bad, though. The coastal road passes through some fantastic little towns that, once again, prove that painting a town or city into a bright rainbow of colours automatically results in UNESCO recognition.

UNESCO heritage in Tlacotalpan - Mexico
UNESCO heritage in Tlacotalpan – Mexico

The Carribean coast has some other surprises, too. Rio Lagartos is one of those with an incredible array of bird life, above all the vermilion coloured flamingos wading through mangrove lined rivers.

American Flamingo - Rio Lagartos
American flamingos – Rio Lagartos

The same region is used as a salt extraction area, resulting in flamingo-coloured mineral pools.

Salt extraction - Rio Lagartos
Salt extraction – Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos marks the end of the non-touristy part of Mexico. Upon entering the Yucatan peninsula it becomes very clear that the region is aiming at mass tourism. Think huge resorts, privatised natural regions and overcrowded beaches. Not too exciting.

Well, I was pleasantly surpised. Yes, it is all there, including drunk Brits and noisy Dutchmen, but at the same time a little bit of effort buys you private tranquility. Ek Balam is one of those spots. Imagine pre-Colombian pyramids in the middle of a dense jungle. No tourists, no souvenir stands. Even Chichen Itza can be quiet if you pick the right moment. Tip: a hangover needs time…

Chichen Itza - Mexico
Chichen Itza – Mexico

No such peace on Isla Mujeres. South Yucatan is literally riddled with resorts (and their inhabitants), so you will have to share its beauty. However, the resorts are a heaven of luxury and a “free” invitation to spend the day at one of them, all-inclusive, is just too good to decline (thank you, Mía Cancún!). The catch was (there is always a catch) that we had to endure a 90 minute sales talk. Come on guys, did you really think we were going to buy a 20-year time-share plan?

Private natural pool at the Mía - Isla Mujeres
Private natural pool at the Mía – Isla Mujeres

Skip Cancún and Playa del Carmen, but don’t forget the amazing cenotes in the area. The smaller ones (head into any small town) are just as impressive, way less crowded and a lot cheaper.

Cenote Cristalino - Playa del Carmen
Cenote Cristalino – Playa del Carmen

Tulum is definitely worth a stop. The ruins are ok-ish, but the setting of the pre-Colombian city is just incredible. Picture perfect white sand beaches, lush greenery and the most amazingly coloured coastal waters you have ever seen.

Overlooking the Carribean - Tulum ruins
Didem overlooking the Carribean – Tulum ruins

That’s all for Mexico, folks. Next up: Belize!